An inconvenient truth: MQA sounds better!


Over-exposure can ruin a perfectly good song. Blur’s “Song 2”, Pulp’s “Disco 2000”, Lorde’s “Royals”, Bob Dylan’s “Mr Tambourine Man” and The Doors’ “Riders On The Storm” have been worn down the nub for this fan. Hearing these songs now, they sound like karaoke ghosts – mere shadows of their former selves. That’s partly the result of DJ-ing and partly the result of since becoming an audio journo. There’s a case to be made for not reviewing audio gear with songs that you love.

So it was with some gratitude that the MQA-encoded material hitting my Dropbox last Friday night, along with the corresponding hi-res originals, featured nothing that I even liked, which in turn meant no treasure could be ruined by the intensive A/B comparisons that would follow.

Steely Dan’s “Babylon Sisters” aside, songs like Muddy Waters’ “My Home Is In The Delta” and Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong’s “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” never, ever normally get a run at DAR HQ. Ditto Ravel’s “String Quartet in F Major 2 Assez Vif, Tres Rythme” (as performed by the Guaneri String Quartet) or Debussy’s “Prelude” (as performed by Joan Rowland).

You might point to my lack of familiarity with these pieces as a shortcoming in assessing MQA (the format) or you might consider my lack of exposure as fundamental to impartiality on what has proven to be the single most controversial topic in the audiophile world this side of Ethernet cables.

A dearth of MQA content, easily dwarfed by the fanfare surrounding Bob Stuart and Peter Craven’s new music format, has all the hallmarks of early years DSD. If anything, this had me kicking of my own MQA listening sessions on the back foot and a little skeptical.

MQA being better, the same or worse wouldn’t matter a jot if the music itself didn’t float my boat. As someone who listens to music that inhabits the netherworld between audiophile approved and chart hits (think: Low to Tom Waits to Moderat), why would I care how MQA sounded if it only mattered to the same old audiophile releases? Does the world really need another version of A Kind Of Blue? Or Hotel California? Or Jazz At The Pawnshop?

Just as reviewers trust DAC manufacturers not to juice sample units with better capacitors and power supply components, these files were accepted on similar terms; that the MQA versions hadn’t been messed with beyond that which would normally take place during the MQA encoding process.

Here’s MQA’s Bob Stuart: “The MQA files were encoded directly from the original files included in the folders. Furthermore, there is no change in level or frequency response in the audio band (MQA is typically within 10mB).”

My review files were clearly marked as loaners and I was happy to delete them all once the A/B comparisons had run their course.

gauchoWell, except perhaps “Babylon Sisters” by Steely Dan – song I’d enjoyed to a thousand times before signing on to write about audio and ten thousand times since. It’s one of the few audio demo staples that I (still) truly love.

Not just the song itself but also its host album, Gaucho – production polish be damned, the subject matter tackled by Donald Fagen’s lyrics is unsettling and, at times, a little bleak. A mid-life crisis record that wouldn’t sound out of place piped through a shopping mall PA system.

In my digital audio library sits Gaucho as original CD rip, remastered CD rip and as (remastered) hi-res download.

Why then would I want to keep hold of Gaucho’s first cut in MQA?

Put simply: because it sounds convincingly better than the normal, non-MQA’d 24bit/96kHz file. Lest you thought MQA was just a way to pack, transmit and then unpack hi-res audio via what Bob Stuart calls “audio origami” or “encapsulation”, it isn’t. It’s that. But also more.

We’ll get to the techier SQ-related stuff in a bit. First, audio origami.

MQA can fold a vanilla 24bit/384kHz, 24bit/192kHz or 24bit/96kHz file down inside its 24bit/48kHz container file. Similarly, 24bit/352.8kHz, 24bit/176.4kHz and 24bit/88.2kHz files can be folded up inside a 24bit/44.1kHz MQA container file. In both cases, song.flac becomes song.mqa.flac where FLAC is the file wrapper – this is crucial for backwards compatibility with DACs that aren’t MQA enabled. More on that shortly.

MQA makes hi-res streaming a reality when previously it mightn’t have been. But if MQA (the company) were only concerned with lowering the bandwidth required for hi-res audio streaming, once unpacked, an MQA file and its hi-res cousin would sound (close to) identical. But do they? No, they do not. And from an audiophile perspective, the audible differences aren’t subtle.

When fired from Roon server running on an Intel NUC, over the LAN to a Sonicorbiter SE, via a Curious USB cable and iFi iPurifier 2, into the Mytek Brooklyn DAC (whose front panel MQA logo lights up blue) and then out to a pair of Red Dragon S500 monoblocks driving Spatial Hologram M4 Turbo S open baffle loudspeakers, I found the MQA take on Steely Dan to be more musically convincing than its hi-res counterpart.

This isn’t just a spasm.


One thing I like about MQA is that it puts provenance ahead of sample rate. The A in MQA stands for “authenticated”. Like the “Babylon Sisters”, the Mytek Brooklyn unpacks the Fitzgerald / Armstrong MQA cut to 24bit/96kHz and also turns the front panel MQA logo blue.

Logo colour is not an indicator of sample rate or even audio quality. The green light seen during Muddy Waters’ track indicates MQA content – the first sign of an untampered file – but blue (per the Steely Dan track) takes information provision a step further in letting us know that the MQA file has been approved at the studio level, signed off by either the artist, producer or copyright holder

At the other end of the chain, MQA meets the end user and his/her DAC, inside which the MQA code (software) sits on an XMOS chip. Its job is not only to unfold (decode) the hi-res according to the sample rate limits of the DAC chip but also to optimise the DAC chip’s sound quality by applying a pre-emptive corrective filter to the digital signal prior to conversion to analogue (rendering). This the main reason why the MQA code must sit within I2S reach of the DAC chip – i.e inside the DAC box – and why its effectiveness would be diluted/nullified if placed in an upstream streamer.

Bel Canto’s John Stronczer explains it like this:

“Why embed MQA into the DAC? There are a couple of reasons, using the spline filters you cannot have an apodising filter before or after or else you will compromise the phase and frequency response. You also need to take care with the analog domain filters and ideally any filters after the MQA decoder need to be measured and the MQA filters optimized to take them into account. This will lead to the BEST performance, however I do suspect that a software only implementation could indeed work well but not necessarily at its best, and in the worst case it could actually lead to excessive phase and frequency response errors in some DAC and system applications, so it DOES actually make some sense to control the process in an approved platform and optimize each companies’ or even each products’ filters for best performance, further differentiating any MQA product from another. In other words a specific licensed spline filter will be unique to each design and company.”

As mentioned by Stronczer, the pre-emptive, corrective filter is customised by MQA (the company) according to the fingerprint of the DAC chip, its own filters and (sometimes) the D/A converter’s output stage as measured by MQA. Note that Stronczer also suggests that a software decoder is possible but also probably less effective – a conversation for another day.


One implication for DAC manufacturers signing up for MQA certification is that Bob Stuart’s team will need to recalibrate the filter each time a change is made to the DAC design – e.g. a move from Wolfson to ESS chips means fresh MQA code will be required. FPGA DAC developers whose changes come thick and fast via software updates might see this scenario as less than ideal.

Back to Ella and Louis. The MQA version delivers fuller, more tonally satisfying bass notes and a better sense of the space surrounding Fitzgerald’s voice. Her singing sounds altogether more real, more present and fleshier with MQA than not; there’s more audible evidence of the woman behind it.

Remember: MQA playback is a two part process in a suitably-equipped DAC: 1) hi-res unpacking (decoding) and 2) pre-emptive filter application and decoding (rendering). I’m willing to bet the latter is why I hear better sound quality from an MQA file than the hi-res original. MQA seems to do a better job of making the three dimensional illusion that is high end audio playback more believable.

Nowhere was this more evident than on the aforementioned Debussy piece where audiophile pal Barry, who, more familiar with the piece, had joined me for an afternoon’s listening. He picked up immediately on the more notable decay of the piano’s upper registers and that the MQA file spilled with more recording space information than the hi-res equivalent.

With Muddy Waters’ “My Home Is In The Delta”- which Barry tells me is a well-worn audiophile number – the drum, panned hard left, displayed greater textural detail in MQA form than it did via 24bit/192kHz. The slide guitar sounded more real. Moving in the other direction, from MQA to hi-res, the drum skin lacked texture and reverb, the slide guitar displayed more metallic sheen and the overall presentation sounded comparatively lifeless.


Time to punch in Ravel on the Roon remote. Again, I heard superior separation from the MQA version but also a greater sense of musical flow from string players. My notes read “Oozing class”. This A/B unmasked the widest delta between the kind of hi-res audio file that we’re used to hauling around and the lighter, leaner MQA version.

In more general terms, and depending on the musical content, MQA draws player outlines with greater clarity and fleshier tonality. More easily ‘seen’ is each player’s soundstage positioning. Decay, from percussive ticks to guitar licks, becomes more obvious too.

But if the MQA versions share a common trait, one that isn’t as apparent in the standard hi-res PCM files, it’s a greater sense of ease. The kind that vinyl lovers talk about when they complain that digital playback sounds too brittle or too rigid.

This would seem to fly in the face of Benchmark’s “bottom line” assertion that “MQA is no substitute for listening to the original high-resolution files.”

This commentator’s findings don’t mean the Brooklyn DAC playing MQA files will best the Aqua La Scala playing Redbook content – it doesn’t. Complicating the issue somewhat is that I personally prefer listening to Redbook (or hi-res PCM) decoded by the PS Audio DirectStream Jr than MQA via the Mytek Brooklyn. The PS Audio has a more ‘full cream’ flavour compared to the Mytek’s leaner espresso hit.

Sticking with the Mytek though, a move from hi-res PCM to MQA on the Brooklyn brings SQ improvements similar in size to switching out the source from a budget streamer to a more high end solution. Or like moving from a stock Sonos Connect to one modified by Wyred4Sound.

What of the majority who don’t (yet) have an MQA DAC? Aren’t they left out in the cold? One thing that the MQA story (so far) has shown us is that audiophiles detest being left out of the conversation and will advance an opinion on MQA’s audible merits whether they’ve heard it or not.

This is where our story gets REALLY interesting.

According to Bob Stuart, the third and most important strand of the MQA trifecta takes place before the music even reaches the end user’s DAC, the download store or streaming service.

MQA isn’t a codec, it’s a process. And that process begins at the studio. The MQA algorithm corrects time domain inaccuracies (pre- and post-ringing) caused by the original A/D converter. This is either done at the studio, soon after the recording is made or, for existing recordings, with one of the handful of MQA-equipped computers dotted around the globe.

The implication being that MQA can potentially correct the temporal smearing of almost every recording in existence. Success here largely depends on whether the original A/D converter’s make/model is known. If it is known, precise settings can be applied, otherwise a best guess filter is applied.

Bob Stuart explains: “What is happening here is that the encoder (using system metadata and/or AI) resolves artefacts that are obviously different in each song according to the equipment and processes used. When these distracting distortions are ameliorated then the decoder can reconstruct the analog in a complementary way.” 

“Removing ‘pollution’ is not lossless” [DAR’s emphasis].

This means each MQA file’s DNA is different to that of the standard hi-res PCM equivalent. In strictly data terms, the MQA encoding process is lossy – it is no longer the studio master as archived by the record label. Bob Stuart’s proposition with MQA is that the originating hi-res PCM file is filtered in order to make it sound better with any D/A converter.

Stuart continues: “…the magic is that when these distracting elements are not present our perceptual system has an easier time grouping and streaming and locating the sound objects in the presentation.”

“With regard to the filtering aspect of this, thirteen years ago we showed apodizing could help at playback, but to get temporal resolution down to the 10us level or below we must work on the whole chain. Doing so allows us to reduce blur by at least an order of magnitude compared to conventional 192kHz.”

This begs the question: how do PCM hi-res and the corresponding MQA compare when played back via a non-MQA DAC?


Without MQA in the DAC, no un-folding takes place – only the first 44.1kHz or 48kHz is parsed – and the pre-emptive filter correction isn’t applied. Only the MQA encoding process is heard. Would hi-res PCM, untouched by MQA, sound better, worse or the same when A/B-d against MQA’s time domain corrected, sample-rate limited equivalent?

With a PS Audio DirectStream Jr DAC sat below the Mytek Brooklyn in my HiFi Racks hifi rack and with files in hand, the answer was only a morning’s listening away.

I’ll cut to the chase: for the same reasons stated above, but to a lesser degree, the MQA files handled by the PS Audio DAC bested the sound quality of the 192kHz or 96kHz hi-res versions in every single case, from Muddy Waters to Steely Dan to Ravel and (especially) to Ella and Louis.

That ‘pop’ sound you just heard was the seal breaking on a fresh can o’ worms.

I don’t really want to qualify this finding but I feel that I must given its (probably) controversial nature. This is what I heard, alone in my apartment. You might hear it differently had you access to these same files played back through the same hardware. The hardware you could buy – but before you venture an opinion on how MQA sounding better on a non-MQA DAC cannot possibly be true, ask yourself: do you have access to these same MQA files? If so, by all means have it in the comments section below.

Also know that I repeated this same experiment with the AURALiC Vega DAC. No MQA software on its XMOS chip but also no FPGA silicon and no Ted Smith code. Instead an ESS Sabre decoder. And guess what? Same result: MQA sounds better than hi-res even when the DAC chip doesn’t see north of 48kHz when faced with MQA source files.

‘Pop’ again.


Here we note AudioStream’s Michael Lavorgna concluded similarly in his own MQA review:

“Does MQA encoded music played back on a non-MQA DAC sound better, worse, or the same as playing back the file in its native resolution? While it depended on the recording, un-decoded MQA file did not sound worse than the original native file and in some cases, the un-decoded MQA version sounded better.”

The implication is that you don’t need an MQA-capable DAC to feel the benefit of an MQA file. Which is great news for those not (yet) ready to drop big cash on new hardware.

Listeners wanting to get MQA ready and taste the very limited amount of content already available for download can grab a Meridian Explorer2 for US$299. My findings with MQA listening don’t suddenly make my own counter-arguments about catalogue size disappear. Nor do they address technical concerns (heard elsewhere) about MQA encoding. Those stories and the audio engineering debates that fuel them remain real and will continue to be covered here as time allows.

Downloads though – the future they are not. We know their sales are trending downward. Although their official position is one of delivery method impartiality, MQA probably aren’t betting the farm on HDTracks or Qobuz selling their wares.

Readers who don’t want to buy their music again, I suspect Bob Stuart hears you. He probably doesn’t want you to buy it all over again either. Stuart’s making his money elsewhere – at the studio level, at the DAC hardware level and (probably, eventually) at the cloud streaming level.

The way I see it, MQA’s future proliferation will be made (or broken) by streaming service adoption. And right now that means Tidal. The immediate and face-slappingly-obvious benefit of MQA to Jay-Z’s company is the ability to stream hi-res content in Redbook-sized containers. “Babylon Sisters” 24bit/96kHz file size is halved once encoded to MQA: 131.6Mb to 73.6Mb. The Ravel piece goes from 221.3Mb (as 24bit/192kHz) down to 62.6Mb (as MQA).


Another benefit for Tidal is the need to archive/stream only one file. MQA will only unfold according the maximum sample rate handling of the MQA-enabled DAC and will playback just fine on a normal DAC.

The Mytek Brooklyn’s MQA decoding can be toggled on/off according to taste. Off, it’ll behave like a non-MQA DAC. That’s useful if you don’t want the hi-res portion of the file that some DAC engineers are claiming is partly lossy. The time-domain correction within the MQA file will remain.

Tidal Hifi subscribers with MQA-capable DACs get the double whammy of a full hi-res stream decoded by an MQA-optimised signal path. Those not in possession of such hardware will, based on my listening experience, see an uptick in sound quality without lifting a finger. Or wallet.

Tidal is the key that will unlock the door to MQA’s proliferation. It has the power to bring MQA to a much wider audience, side-stepping the need to re-buy one’s library, and for – fingers crossed – the same price as the existing HiFi service’s monthly fee. Even if MQA content added to the HiFi service causes the monthly fee to rise by a couple extra bucks, it’s still better value than dropping US$20+ per MQA download.

Moreover, as we’ve seen with exclusive releases from Kanye West and Beyonce, Tidal has the industry clout to make sure MQA-encoded albums aren’t only the same old same old, especially now that Warner Music Group are on board – a licensing deal that Stuart says took three years to finalise.

Imagine a world in which Tidal streams MQA content invisibly to its HiFi subscribers. A world in which Beyoncé albums are treated the same as Diana Krall but with the potential to improve the listening experience beyond the realm of audiophile nerds like you and me.


Further information: MQA

Written by John H. Darko

John lives in the NOW + HERE = NOWHERE. He derives an income from the ad revenues of DAR. John is also an occasional staff writer for Stereophile, 6moons and TONEAudio.

Twitter: DarkoAudio
Instagram: DarkoAudio
Facebook: DAR


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  1. Ah, audiophile subjectivity… and as we all know (but few acknowledge) subjectivity measures nothing with any degree of consistency. I maintain that all settings being equal, if you didn’t know what you were listening to you wouldn’t know the difference because there aren’t any that you could hear.

    Why? Because subjectivists arrive at their conclusions not because of facts but because of what they like. And sometimes because they want to be liked.

    And that, that is the inconvenient truth of MQA and a great many other things in audio and life. ENC? Indeed.

    • re. “Audiophile subjectivity”. I find it odd that readers only seem to point that out when it’s a controversial topic under consideration and not say an amplifier or a pair of loudspeakers.

      In fact, the closing remarks of your own comment on my DragonFly Red DAC review reads: “Nice, relevant to the real world in which we all live, review sir. Huzzah, indeed!”. You seemed untroubled by the subjective listening methods used in THAT review.

      A reminder to you or anyone else: y’all are barking up the wrong tree – “Audiophile subjectivity” is the cornerstone of this website.

      • It (your Dragonfly Red review) was a useful, relevant, real world review, ergo why would I not say as much. Do you really want me to point out everything I find fault with because if subjectivity is the cornerstone of this site, criticism is nothing if not highly subjective in that we pick and choose that which we will comment upon and that being in both a subjective and objective manner.

        I tend to like products that look nice and provide me with music. As I stated in the Dragonfly piece I dislike carrying a DAP with me when my phone is sufficient to the task. A Dragonfly Red is a nice looking piece of equipment and in a tactile way it fills a desire, not a need for me.


        Not at all.

        I no longer use my headphone amplifiers as I cannot discern a difference and do not care to tote them around strapped to my player or phone via rubber bands.. Same with my Amp/DACs. They sit unused for the same reason. I have a component DAC but again, cannot honestly hear a difference between playing music through it or the built-in DAC of either of my CD players. I don’t feel betrayed by this. Neither am I angry with the manufacturers or myself.

        Like I said before, I am not an audiophile. I enjoy music and the equipment that brings it to me. Would you prefer I not comment at all? But say the word and it shall be so, my friend. It is your site and I will abide by your decision.


    • Why read a subjectivist ezine if you find the basic premise so egregious? To argue and seem superior?

  2. A very interesting review John. I’m sure Paul at PS Audio will have some thoughts on this, as his opinion to date on MQA seems to be in difference to your experience above.

    As a new owner of a DirectStream Jnr, I am looking forward to your review on this DAC. A suggestion for your review would be how a non MQA version of a song sounds with the new firmware (Torreys – to be released soon for the Jnr), versus the MQA version you listened to using the current firmware (Yale).

    • Thanks Kelvin. Yes, I’m hoping to talk to Paul on the phone (again) this week. However, this is all I’ll be writing on MQA for the time being. I have spent the last four days putting this piece together and I’m spent. :/

      • Got a DSJ as well and would love to see Paula & Co. changing their mind and jumping on the MQA wagon -thus adhering to John’s sentiments here. Thanks for the piece mate.

  3. Finally…..a truth which should not be inconvenient at al John..!
    I am very glad that your scepticism regarding MQA is gone so we can stop ‘debating’ and just enjoy music again..:-)

    Wow..hope wins

    • Yes. And no. In finding MQA to my liking doesn’t suddenly eradicate the concerns of others, especially audio engineers.

      • I understand your point and it also explains the reluctancy from FPGA DAC manufacturers like PSaudio and others to embrace MQA. This new standard will make them dependant and nobody wants to be a slave and forced to follow new ‘rules’ But all together, the MQA process is much more than just a new codec, as I adressed in your former topic with Schiit. You now personaly witnessed the impact of the deblurring process and it is indeed bringing new life to older recordings. Excellent news!

  4. John,

    Have you yet had a chance to take Babylon Sisters” 24bit/96kHz (or any of the other files) and use HQPlayer to up-sample it (to DSD, DXD, filter of choice, etc.) and compare that to the MQA results (both MQA decoded and MQA to non-decoding DAC)?

    Also, if Babylon Sisters” 24bit/96kHz file is 73.6Mb, what is the same file in standard 16/44 PCM with FLAC compression – which is what is streamed to us via Tidal? I think it is still significantly less than 73.6Mb, and I don’t think MQA compresses in FLAC nearly as well as standard PCM 16/44. I say all this just to note that a TIDAL MQA stream is likely going to require more bandwidth, not less than what they do today (unless I mistaken)…

    • HQPlayer is on my radar and I used it here and there. I did some VERY BRIEF A/B-ing with Barry as the test subject between the hi-res, that upsampled to DSD via HQPlayer and the MQA but old Bazza still preferred the MQA take. Didn’t include in the main article as I didn’t feel it was sufficiently conclusive due to the brevity of the A/B. Worth remembering though that DSD upsampling, as good as it sounds, cannot work miracles. Moreover, as the PCM hi-res orig was the source, it doesn’t include the MQA file’s encoded time domain correction.

      • Thanks for the effort and excellent review.

        It is as I suspected, MQA is a real SQ improvement. However, is it worth the cost? MQA is “end to end”, which is to say it is a “non hostile take over” (or hostile if it becomes the only format available for our recordings) of so much of the recording and playback chain that the industry and consumers will really have to think it over – is this what we want? Do we REALLY want to realy on one company to control the innovation and sound of our music? It is TOTAL control, as anything behind the Intellectual Property/Patent firewall is off limits to innovation, or even simple investigation.

        As you report, some in the industry are waking up to the fact that with MQA they no longer can innovate, and there is a critical mass of consumers who realize what turning over their musical digital domain to a IP/patent/DRM format means. Given these facts and the general market, a take over by MQA is not likely in the near or even medium future. However, as you point out streaming is the linchpin – IF MQA can gain a solid foothold there (beyond a single service like Tidal) then everything changes and the prospect of MQA only recordings real I think.

        What I don’t understand is why anyone would simply not wait for the non-MQA MQA? Someone (if they have not already) will figure out a way to give us “time domain correction” without giving us all the downside of a hostile takeover of the whole recording/playback chain…

        • We have not been complayning when Philips and Sony introduced the CD in 1982 including their redbook format.. MQA is a succesfull evolution and next neceasary step I would say.

          • Peter, no offense intended but you just don’t get it. Fundamentally, you don’t understand the current digital world and what a closed vs open format means to our digital ecosystems.

            Also, more generally, no MQA is not “necessary” nor is evolution (or is it revolution?) always a step in the right direction for all sorts of reasons. You can’t simply call something (no matter the real merits) an “evolution” and come to some simplistic evaluation that “MQA = good” like you are summing an equation.

            No, if MQA was to become the de-facto standard, it would not be the equivalent of the introduction of the CD as our “digital ecosystems” are now completely different and the switch to a closed/proprietary format would have real “cons” that are substantially different than the “cons” of the CD in the early 80’s.

            I say all this as respectfully as can be done in a comment box. You could start to understand what MQA could mean by looking at the history of video. Have you tried to *legally* rip, store, or back up your favorite Blue-Ray today?

        • I listened to MQA yesterday in my home stereo and to me it is clear that this product is a major step forward and soon many people will confirm this. It is no hype or hostile is a great technological progress which offers much more than only compression. It is the only technology available which is capable to compensate for time- pre and post ringing effects which have been introduced into the digital mastertapes of precious albums in the past. That’s all that counts for me.

          • Peter, with all due respects to your MQA comments, to quote: “it is a great technological progress which offers much more than only compression. It is the only technology available which is capable to compensate for time- pre and post ringing effects”

            Obviously you don’t know that, do you?

            In fact, MQA is hardly alone to deal with pre and post ringing. Good DAC filter design (FPGA’s) already do that and so do the best music players most people are not using, For example FIDELIA using its GoodHertz digital engine which, adjusted appropriately, may be competitive with MQA’s SQ. I am not saying it is the same. I haven’t made the test. Yet. I said “may.”.


            There’s a lot f hype in every business and ours is not immune. Take the hype Peter, with a large boulder of salt. Large enough that you can’t lift it.

            You can download the basic version here:

            But the advanced adjustments may not be available until you go for ADVANCED and the CanOpener headphone module….

        • Dear Andrew, please understand that MQA is an algorithm which is applying ‘fingerprint’ information which contains the originally used Analog to Digital convertors which have been used during the RECORDING of the music. It actually corrects for the vast anti-aliasing errors made in the past (and even today..) which means that it is actively correcting for post- and pre-ringing effects made by the ADC used in the studio.. This is much more than a good FPGA designed DAC nowadays is capable to do. It is therefore unique and, to my point of view, a major leap forward in restoring the original ANALOG sound of the musicians in past records. The May issue of The Absolute Sound, written by Robert Harley explains extensively what MQA does and how it sounds. The very informative youtube channels by Hans Beekhuyzen do also explain this very important aspect of MQA and the impact of time-smearing at borth recording and playback :

        • It is simply not true that “anything behind the Intellectual Property/Patent firewall is off limits to innovation or even simple investigation”.
          There is an Experimental Use Exception (that I helped formulate when working for IP Australia) – see
          When an improvement occurs there is usually cross-licensing. And in any case research shows that most patents are worked around on average of about 5 years, well before the patent term.

          • Further to common misconceptions about the patent system, one of the
            ‘quid pro quos’ of granting a patent is full disclosure of how the patent works – so that others can confirm that it works, build on it etc.

            In the case of MQA much of it is described in patent application at
            but be warned it is pretty heavy going!

  5. John, you have hit many nails on the head. MQA will live or die based on Tidal integration (and on Tidal’s overall longevity, which is still an unknown). Cynical arguments about a re-tread of DSD miss the point: if you’re willing to drop the hi-res download snobbery and embrace streaming, you don’t have to re-buy your collection.

    It’s bizarre to me that the narrow audiophile outlook has dampened what should be excitement about a breakthrough in the sound quality of streaming audio. Whether it’s lossy or not, whether it sounds better than 24/192 or not, none of that matters. If it improves considerably upon Tidal’s existing 16/44 content at little or no additional cost, we all win.

  6. Hi John

    An informative piece indeed. I was thinking that MQA would not prove to be as significant as you have have found, in your listening tests.

    With your review in mind I will now at least seek out a demo to see if I experience the same, nothing ventured nothing gained.

    However when it comes to buying a DAC with MQA I will be waiting for the catalogue to expand, I doubt I will hear Van Halen any better through MQA, but you never know.

    Contraversial or not, I am glad you have written this about MQA, I am firmly on the fence until content broadens, but feel it worth investigating in the meantime.

    Hope the naysayers don’t irk you too much in their rhetoric.

    Out of interest, do you think the Meridian director will be able to give a similar playback quality as the Mytek you used? I don’t think so, which means I would have to change my DAC to go MQA, and say goodbye to another 1k £’s.

    Thanks again


  7. I think you are right about Tidal (streaming) and MQA – the non-audiophile streaming Tidal won’t even be aware of it. But if it succeeds there, it will succeed elsewhere. That way MQA will make lots of dough, and become important enough that many DAC makers will include it in DACs.

    I’ll be shopping for a high end DAC in the coming year. It will be interesting how many will have MQA included by then – if not many then “to have MQA or not” will start to become a factor in the decision. That’s too bad. I’d prefer it that there were enough DACs with it (or that it fails) so that it doesn’t become a factor in the decision.

  8. I’m not gonna dog your claims John. It kinda makes sense actually, my concern is implications over the long haul regardless of what lies atop the audio summit with a blue lit MQA logo.

    I fall in the camp of being happy ‘as is’ with my Redbook rig… Only rarely do I stumble on a brutally compressed album where I become aware of limitations…. 99% of the time. I’m content with what I have.

    That said, the game plan seems to me like it is to get record companies to license their music through MQA for a standardized high res format for distribution, then an MQA licensed compression scheme for bandwidth friendly streaming, and licensing of playback hardware for Mastering Quality Authenticated playback. What you end up with is a format that is locked down cradle to grave behind proprietary licensing.

    Could be there are collateral benefits, like you heard, for non licensed playback and I’d love to think that Bob Stuart is doing this as a philanthropic exercise, but I doubt that is the case.

    I find it more likely that if we end up with an MQA enabled platform on Tidal it will inevitably require an MQA licensed streamer and/ or Decoder and God knows a separate software platform. I worry more about the HiFi experience being increasingly corded off more and more behind proprietary walls when licensing plays such a heavy role

    Maybe needless paranoia, but It all strikes me as very much in the vein of the Dolby Laboratories business model.

  9. The elephant in the room here is the potential for a software version – especially for Apple devices. A couple of years ago I ripped all my CDs (full ALAC) to my MacBook Pro SSD. On playback comparison with my Wadia CD player I couldn’t hear a difference. On ‘my’ system.

    And that’s the issue. Most of us don’t have a $100,000 system that can discern the type of fly buzzing around the recording studio. So any shortcomings between DAC MQA and software MQA are likely to be inaudible to those of us with more mundane systems.

    But I suspect the benefits of MQA will be clearly evident. And a software version is going to be the “toe in the water” boost that will give MQA real traction with the music-listening world, not just audiophiles.

  10. Very interesting read as someone who is a believer in Tidal and seriously considering the Brooklyn for my second system.

    A bit off topic but have you tried out the phono stage of the Brooklyn? Very limited commentary on its capability and loading options on the web.

    Would be interested to hear your take on it. Thanks in advance.

  11. SS, I agree with your comments regarding amplifiers and DAC’s to a degree (laws of diminishing returns etc) but MQA is a very different beast altogether and having heard it am convinced that this is one format that has actually advanced sound quality on significantly enough to be a game changer. If you enjoy music then this is one format to try.

  12. Interesting article. Two questions:

    1) Have you listened to Tidal MQA? I thought I had seen on-line some users have access to it.

    2) Have you compared the 2L MQA and hi-res files? I personally thought the Mozart DXD file sounded much better than the non-decoded MQA file on a non-MQA DAC. I didn’t compare any lower res versions though (e.g. 24/192). The non-decoded MQA file does sound ‘different’ but misses some audiophile characteristics that the DXD file has.

    My recent interest in direct to DSD recordings shows a big difference to PCM files. I find PCM files have a smear or veil over them compared to direct to DSD. I haven’t found upsampling to DSD resolves that issue. A multibit DAC may be able to reproduce PCM better, but I don’t have much experience with them. I wonder if MQA brings an element of DSD to PCM?

  13. Re: “… MQA sounds better than hi-res”

    This is starting to sound too good to be true. What is the provenance of each of those tracks? What evidence is there that the pre-encoded content in those MQA files has not been remastered in some way?

    • There isn’t any. Unless you count MQA’s de-blurring. You take my findings at face value – as I did with the files – or not at all.

      • I should have added more context, specifically this relates to MQA files sounder better on a non-MQA DAC and I should have quoted “…but before you venture an opinion on how MQA sounding better on a non-MQA DAC cannot possibly be true, ask yourself: do you have access to these same MQA files? If so, by all means have it in the comments section below.”

        The point being that artist/album/track name is not enough of a qualifier to identify 2 sources of a track for comparison, and without provenance qualifiers on the tracks, one never knows what exactly they are comparing. So, I am not saying it can’t be true, I am just saying that mostly it can’t be validated. My experience is that in some cases the digital files delivered by different services are mastered differently.

        And let’s not forget about watermarking on streamed content and digital downloads.. In the case of MQA encoded files, is the material watermarked or not? If not, that could be enough to generate a more pleasing sonic variance. For example, Steely Dan’s Gaucho album, was released on the MCA label which is also a UMG label. In general, excluding a CD-rip, it would be safe to assume that a track from a UMG label, as a non-MQA digital stream/download, would be sonically altered with a watermarked.

        As you noted .. Another can o’ worms being opened.

        • Well, I trusted MQA to deliver files with honesty, just as I trust an amplifier or DAC manufacturer not to soup up their review unit/s with better-specc’d components, power supply or even a different circuit.

          This kind of tom-foolery *could* easily happen with hardware but one rarely sees accusations of this kind of behaviour fly in the wake of a positive amplifier or DAC review.

          • True, but yet another DAC or amplifier (or cable, or fill_in_the_blank) is not the same thing as a fundamental format change that is MQA. The run of the mill DAC or amplifier review gives the consumer yet another choice in an open market.

            MQA is a different beast all together. It is an end-to-end takeover of the whole chain, most importantly the ground we all walk on in our digital music lives – the “format” or “standard”. MQA, instead of giving us another choice, is actually a closing of the market in a fundamental way (if it ends up having any market penetration)

            So, the fact that it is this “game changer” and is non transparent (the true and actual inner workings being forever non-disclosed behind IP and software patents) demands a level of scrutiny that almost any other audio product does not…

          • I can’t help but think that Darren makes a valid point. Would it be possible to obtain a statement of “Authentication” from MQA as to whether the files they provided you were from the same mastering? I don’t see it as a matter of trust, but rather a clarification of facts that could be very informative. Thanks.

          • He does make a valid point, yes. MQA assure me the files are from the same studio masters.

          • Then, is it safe to assume that MQA provided both the MQA and non-MQA files for your comparison, and as such your claim of sonic improvement playing the MQA files on non-MQA equipment was against the MQA supplied non-MQA versions?

            Since the first MQA announcement I have been interested in what MQA can offer as a next-gen format, but now I am really intrigued if the process can realize improvements on non-MQA equipment …

          • “Then, is it safe to assume that MQA provided both the MQA and non-MQA files for your comparison, and as such your claim of sonic improvement playing the MQA files on non-MQA equipment was against the MQA supplied non-MQA versions?”

            YES. 🙂

  14. Setting aside my previous comments,
    Great article. I really appreciate your digital audio viewpoints and reporting.

  15. John, I just read the whole thing twice.

    One question: “The implication is that you don’t need an MQA-capable DAC to feel the benefit of an MQA file. Which is great news for those not (yet) ready to drop big cash on new hardware.”

    I don’t understand that statement. In essence, when you playback that file, you are getting the *lossy* version of it. How is that a good thing?

    • The way I understand it, we still get the benefit of MQA’s deblurring even without an MQA DAC because the time domain correction is embedded in the MQA file. And is it not possible that the benefits of said deblurring outweigh any lossy data encoding (of which you speak and that I don’t truly understand)? This post is squarely focussed on listening and reporting on what I heard.

      Is it that you want me to explain why what I hear doesn’t align with how you think MQA should sound through a non-MQA DAC? Sorry, no can do.

  16. Like you John, I live in Australia. It’s worth reflecting that much of the hi-res music available through HDTracks and Qobuz can’t be bought in Australia because of some corporate legalese BS that says those distributors aren’t allowed to distribute outside of limited markets. The CD’s can all be bought okay, but not the hi-res downloads. You should never overlook the propensity of the music and film industries to completely stuff up the opportunity to make their goods universally available.
    Fence still being sat on for me. I suspect my perch will be kept warm for a while.

  17. If MQA is going to be aimed at streaming, then I would think its real uptake will be if it can get IOS and Android support on the streaming device of choice for most people who do streaming, the smartphone. I’m trying hdclassics online and they would certainly benefit from reduced bandwidth alone.

  18. Pie in the sky!

    I’m curious as to why there have been no breakthroughs to design and build an ADC > DAC process or a method that doesn’t have to apply correction in the first place. If the correction can be done after the fact why not fix the problem at the source and design a method with hardware and or software to not have to apply the filter in the first place.

    There are many gifted individuals and companies that I’m sure could accomplish that but the real deterrent to this happening is that it has to be cost effective otherwise the recording industry would never be willing to adopt it.

    What I say to that is think long term because the only constant is change, so change or die!

    • Very good question(s). Is Bob simply the first (there has to be a first) to invent this OR is there a fundamental market reason that such “deblurring” tech has not yet been offered? Is the end-to-end takeover of our digital music chains the only way to get it? Does the economics demand the sort of beast the MQA is (and all the licencing and other monetization that will take place IF it becomes a viable format) or can (or will) it be done in a way that does not lock in manufacturers and consumers the way MQA does? Now that Bob has the patents, is it too late (at least until the expire) for any real competition – in other words has MQA (by it’s IP) already sniffled innovation?

  19. No matter how good MQA it claims to be, audiophiles are still the only ones who care about MQA. Nobody cares how Beyoncé sounds or anything recorded in the past 20 years for that matter. So basically it will be re-encoded analog transfers.

  20. A can of worms indeed. To quote: “MQA isn’t a codec, it’s a process. And that process begins at the studio. The MQA algorithm corrects time domain inaccuracies (pre- and post-ringing) caused by the original A/D converter.”
    A point: pre-ringing and post-ringing can be handled via software in the PC /MAC by both iZotope and GoodHertz digital engines a few players already have. The best SQ is best achieved by listening and adjusting to one’s DAC and system; and if one is on board with MQA, by comparing both and matching, if you will. The downside is that your adjustments to both pre and post-ringing (among other “tweaks” possible with iZotope and GeedHertz and there are many), might provide for even superior-to-MQA SQ.

    Moreover, as JD pointed out, FPGA-equipped converters might, or already can, or have, overcome a number of problems other DACs cannot deal with (provided they are programmed properly), and achieve similar, if not exactly the same results as MQA. Not all of them will of course, or they all will. Of course.

    For most people it appears that MQA is the simplest and most practical solution to being locked-in to a standard for today – and tomorrow be damned.

    I have not run, yet, the tests I proposed above, so my jury is still out, but the judge will call them back eventually when the exercise – meaning adequate music – is available through other than streaming sources. Another point of interest is to question if the hirez file sounds “different” than the authenticated (MQA) file, do we find ourselves in an oxymoron, which is, trust me, not a good place to find oneself. Oxymorons are such anti-reality constructs as Jumbo Shrimp, Near Miss, and Intelligent Obama fan.

    It is either authenticated or not. It cannot possibly be both. Lastly, I find it gratifying in the interim if most people at relatively low cost find themselves drawn to the high end, a result of MQA, and for the first time they can hear what good reproduction sounds like.

    It anyone thinks that this NEAR MISS is the end of the road to fine sound, I do have a nice bridge between Brooklyn and Manhattan for sale, along with an excellent health care plan that won’t cost you a dime.

  21. Great news that MQA is a breakthrough! I just hope it doesn’t arrive too late that people lose interest.They should come out and give some kind of idea when we’ll start to see mainstream (non audiophile) tracks using it.

  22. Hi John,

    Thanks for the article.. You mentioned the multibit La Scala.. Have you tried any true Multibit dac to play the MQA tracks? If you did, were there also audible advantages like you heard in the Non-MQA Badged dacs you’ve tried: The Auralic (Sabre chip) and PS Audio (FPGA based)? Thank you.


  23. WOW..!! I am Godsmacked by the impact of the MQA upgrade in my BlueOS MDC module in combination with a firmware upgrade of my NAD C390DD amplifier. For the first time I am now listening to the free 2L mqa downloads in full glory. And it is really a revelation – this sounds so much better, analog, 3D, natural. Almost 40 years after the introduction of the CD the unnatural glare and sharpness is GONE. The music of 2L has an immediate deeper impact, which I formerly did not have at all. MQA did the job and it was 100% worth waiting for…! All sceptical readers will change their minds in a blink of an eye. Thanks Bob Stuart and Peter Craven – what an achievement this is!

    • Peter – I didn’t think the MQA upgrade was yet available to NAD’s BluOS devices?

      From today’s Bluesound press release: “Bluesound is actively working with MQA to support select BluOS-enabled systems from sister company, NAD Electronics, in the future.”

      • John, yesterday I upgraded NAD C390DD firmware to version 2.89 and the BlueOS module upgraded to version 2.2 automatically.
        It is clear that MQA works in my system and it is a huge SQ improvement when listening to it on my old Wilson Audio WP 5.0 The 2L music did not capture me at all, but now, when listening to the clean, unfolded DXD files, it is confirming all you experienced and describe.

    • Impressive. Specifically because the update for BlueOs will be several weeks at least…

  24. Most of the talk about taking MQA mainstream has centred around Tidal, which makes me increasingly nervous.

    Tidal is for sale. Will the new owners continue to supply Roon with a full metadata dump, and for how long. Will they share the MQA vision?

    With Warner’s significant investment in Deezer, and recent commitment to MQA, might it also be suitable vehicle?

  25. I presume that the benefits you hear from the complete MQA process, repairing the ADC and the DAC, are the same you would hear from a superior all analog process, which skips both ADC and DAC. I suppose only master tape RTR could get you there. I have not gone back through the various RTR to digital transmission comparisons scattered around the internet , but they should be equal to what you heard?

    • Brian. Do not assume anything. Terrible things happen to people when they assume anything. For example, they are often proven wrong about their assumptions which teaches them not to make assumptions. I have made assumptions myself, even here, that I will regret, so I am just trying to help you. For me, almost everything about MQA at this point in time is an assumption.

      As for your assumptions: Analog is not the standard for digital and it never will be the standard. Digital is the standard as compared with the line/mic feed – see below.

      Live sound is not the standard for analog or digital. Tape is not the standard for the LP, Direct-to-Disc is.

      In other words, D2D is VASTLY superior to tape; and tape is vastly superior to the LP. And digital properly executed, and its potential, is vastly superior on many levels than analog of any kind. 24 bit digital has far superior dynamic range in comparison with and far lower noise making it able to extract detail that is buried in the noise of analog.

      Digital also has far less distortion and phase shift, from cartridges, tonearms, wire, preamp EQ and other sources, airborne and structural feedback, so on, than any digital system. i have not yet gotten to the sources, tape hiss, cutting lathe issues, stamping and “printing” of the LP, vinyl composition, so on.

      That analog sound is preferred by people who have not heard the best digital or have invested their money and egos into analog says nothing. Theirs is the same mentality of one who invests in a LEICA or HASSELBLAD film camera under the impression that film is a higher resolution medium than 8K video.

      It is not.

      And there’s nothing wrong with your preferring analog to Starbucks coffee. You can prefer and promote what you will.

      Accordingly, think of today’s digital technology as it is similar to, or even arguably the same, as video technology, using similar systems and corrections for decoding what the sensors for both “see.” For video, it is digital imaging, a conversion of optical images to bits. For audio it is the conversion of an audio waveform to bits. More or less, it is the same technology and anyone who has made comparison knows that 8k video is far superior to 35 mm or even 2 1/4″ film for those very reasons.

      Digital systems not properly designed and installed have their own problems. These problems are being resolved by leaps and bounds AT LOW COST. by competing technologies being improved mostly by writing code. This is happening the same way as your mobile phone gets new tools, new apps, new OSes every day that make their operation better and provide for new features.

      Analog is finished with doing low cost because it can’t do it at low cost, and its marginal, arbitrary, and arguable benefits take baby steps to whatever it may want to achieve. In other words, while analog is cruising along at 1KM/hour wallowing in gently foaming waves, digital is racing ahead with significant innovations and SQ improvements each and every the day.

      Sometimes game changing improvements. Take the Chord MOJO.

      Analog is a primitive 100 year old technology that demands heroic measures to sound good. It can sound good, provided one takes heroic, desperate, tweaky and very expensive measures to overcome its faults. It has many faults and that is why tweaks provide audible improvements. Many of those tweaks do not get one closer to the real. Or the authenticated.

      There is only one way to evaluate which technology is closer to the source, or reality if you will – to the musician playing in a room, studio, or concert hall. It is a line/mic feed to two recorders, one analog, the other, digital.

      The line/mic feed is “REAL.” In other words, it is what the engineer and tape and disc hear directly and simultaneously. Whichever playback, analog or digital replicates the closest sound to what is coming in from the line/mic feed is the one that wins. It’s as simple as that, and MQA or assumptions about anything cannot improve on that direct source to hearing enlightenment.

      • Virtually all the music I listen to was recorded on analog tape. So whatever makes transfer of analog tape sound best is what I want to hear.

        I don’t listen to 2L or whatever the latest boutique record label is selling because they’re doing direct to disc or digital recording.

        • Let me make sure I’m understanding you correctly: you are saying that your music choices, Larry, are primarily dictated by the archive format?

          • No! I meant to say “just because” but unable to edit comments in this forum.

            Virtually all of the music I listen to is 60’s-70’s classic rock/pop. I don’t understand those who debate analog vs digital when most content is only available in one or the other. Not like we have a choice. Thus I like to hear what was on the analog tape as accurately as possible.

        • I’ve done some listening to DSD files purchased from NativeDSD and in my opinion DSD from tapes sounds like listening to a tape, whereas direct to DSD doesn’t sound like listening to a tape. So I prefer these days to not have it recorded to tape if possible. Although I would prefer tape rather than PCM. I haven’t heard MQA and would be interested to see how it compares to DSD.

  26. No, no, John, you misunderstand me. Your listening notes are extremely valuable. Like you, I’m just trying to understand!

    If the time domain correction is embedded in a MQA file but the DAC doesn’t understand the MQA file format, how can it deblur? Or are you saying that the MQA file was “deblurred” when it was recorded? But that makes no sense since it will be played through any number of DAC chipsets all of which will have different timing characteristics making that “deblurring” process moot (again, I am under the assumption that deblurring is DAC specific).

    Sorry John, you know I’m not trying to pick on you. I’m just curious and as you know, skeptic.

    • The way I read it is this: MQA encoding improves the file’s time domain accuracy so that the deblurring is embedded *inside* the file at the time of encoding. No special DAC is required to reap the benefits of this part of MQA.

      • Alrighty. I’m still a bit confused on the nitty-gritty details but I am now very curious about getting my metal deblurred! (never thought in a million years I’d say that)

        Thanks for the great article John. Your impressions seem overall very positive and that’s at least a good sign!

        • Welcome to the same confusing boat we are all in. As I understand it, the “deblurring” (i.e. the improvement) would be based on the application of MQA to the ADC side (upstream so already in the recording itself) – however you would still be hearing the “blurring” that your particular non-MQA DAC would be adding to the music through its modulation/filter. So, some benefit, just not the whole.

          Some (on the forums) are reporting hearing this, others are saying through their particular DAC/playback chain a MQA file sounds worse than the non-MQA equivalent. Your mileage may vary…

          • Ah, I see. So the ADC is MQA’ed enabled and when it generates LPCM it does in a fashion that somehow corrects for what I believe Meridian is talking about is intrasample phase inaccuracies (“deblurring”, “time smearing”).

            The issue here then is do you want lossy MQA vs ordinary non-MQA lossless. I think the later still seems more attractive.

            Imagine you HAD to buy a MQA enabled DAC to reap the benefits of your entire digital collection. That seems nuts to me unless MQA is a completely open source format like FLAC.

            I guess time will tell.

  27. Tidal, Bluesound Powernode, Elac UB5s. $1200? Boom. If it all works out, end to end MQA capable. If MQA improves sound, no repurchases.

  28. “The MQA algorithm corrects time domain inaccuracies (pre- and post-ringing) caused by the original A/D converter.”

    So, all A/D have this problem? What about new state of the art devices? Do they also suffer from this? Is MQA the only company in the world that can fix time domain issues? Give me a break.

    • What other companies do you know of that can fix time domain issues at source, in the file, Ran?

      • MQA assumes that all A/D have this issue and therefor it is must dealt in software. I spoke with some A/D manufactures who said this is BS. Do you really think that ALL A/D are inherently flawed? Do they all blur and smear the music?

  29. As an audiophile at the cutting edge, I’m not interested in MQA or even the next big thing after that…no, I’m waiting for the next biggerer and betterer thing after THAT.
    Oh, and the DAC chip I’ve had implanted into my brain stem has apparently become infected so I’m getting it removed Tuesday week, Tuesday week, Tuesday week…

  30. I really do not understand what is the difference with the following process:
    – take your favourite FLAC
    – apply the wanted DSP to make it euphonic
    – store it again as FLAC

    Why do need yet another format? IMHO, it seems a marketing hype…


  31. John,

    Great article. I too tried the listening experiment of MQA files on a non-MQA DAC (Ayre Codex driving modded HD-800).

    I used a couple of 2L samples that are truly exquisite: “Et misericordia” from Arnesen’s Magnificat, and “Ubi Caritas” by Ola Gjeilo. Among others. I listened to the MQA FLAC files (24/44.1) compared to both the 24/192 and 24/352.8 (DXD) files.

    You must have better ears than I, because to me whatever “deblurring” is going on in no way compensates for the improvement I got from the hi-Res versions.

    I’ll see if I can get my hands on the Steely Dan tracks.

    I’ve read others who’ve said the MQA improvements are smaller for music that was already recorded with high production values, which is certainly true of the mostly classical I listen to.

    Perhaps the improvements are more obvious on rock/pop where recording and mastering practices can be a lot more varying in quality.

  32. Bob Stuart may have a good idea with de-blurring time domain thing-a-ma-jig but seems greedy to have an entire process which excludes everyone else. All for revenue at every point along the way including subscription based listening. I’m thinking this would be motivation someone to reverse-engineer the process or make a software app that captures the streamed files.

  33. now for that service, if it really did improve the sound, then I’d be willing to consider a $20 monthly fee, as I am sure the sound quality diff would warrant it over my spotify extreme @ 320kps.

    to my ungolden ears, the two services (spotify extreme @ 320kps and tidal’s premium @ 1400 kps per my 30 day trials) are not all that different sounding…even the verge did blind testing of spotify, apple and tidal last yr and see for yourself the results in the video. the diffs are more subtle imo, but not warranting (as is right now) a 2 fold price diff.

    ….but that said, if Tidal did adopt it, then I have no doubt Spotify would be right in there upping their own bitrate or doing similar, given they’re the largest music streamer right now…then there are the persistent rumours or Apple going ‘high res’ on their music at some point this yr, too, to further differentiate themselves from the pack.

    • On the one hand, such tests (like the infamous NPR one) are forgone conclusions because the quality of the playback chain is simply not really capable of resolving the difference between high bit rate lossy and lossless. A pair of sub $100 headphones (made in china with parts that cost between 1 and 2 dollars) and a phone (again, the dac/amp in a phone is uber-cheap).

      On the other hand, this is what most folks listen with so what does that really mean for lossless streaming, let alone hi-res or MQA?

      As a Tidal subscriber, on the occasion I try out a track that turns out not to be 16/44 (occasionally the artist and/or label will only supply Tidal a lossy version) I can hear it literally within seconds. But then, I am listening through a playback chain that was made in china with parts that cost $40 or $50 bucks, and I have a “golden ear”, etc. However, I am simply that weird “audiophile” that is such a small part o the market. That said, their are at least 1.5 million of us subscribing to Tidal’s 16/44.

      It’s going to tick me off if they switch it over to MQA and I can hear a degradation of SQ through my particular playback chain…

  34. #5 5 minutes ago
    I have the Explorer 2 that I use for all my traveling, and also at home to decode MQA. Some comments:

    – the “deblurring” is based on 2 different techniques: a new quantisation method, whereby each sample is not a “photograph” of a moment, but an average of several samples using a spline as averaging law (the exact law being “trade secret”); and a filter with no pre ringing and very limited post-ringing. The beauty of the filter is an incredible time-fidelity; the drawback is that it lets a lot of aliasing go through. However, and based on the fact that avg spl at these frequencies are quite low, it was deemed an acceptable trade off – in my opinion it sounds significantly better than the originals.

    – if we pass it through the ADC of the Devialet, we re-blur what had been deblurred! (albeit at much higher frequency and therefore less damaging than with 44.1). It is not that all ADCs are wrong – it is that letting aliasing happen has always been considered very poor design, based on the frequency domain view. What is new in Meridian’s approach is that, using sampling techniques used in other fields like medicine or astronomy, they have trusted their ears and followed the time domain perspective instead of the frequency domain – like 99% of designers have been using in the past.

    – to appreciate MQA in its entirety, the rest of the chain must be up to speed. I reckon that the frequency response of all chain elements -in particular, loudspeakers and headphones- need to be capable of reaching 40-50 kHz. I see a big improvement when I move from my UE10 custom in-ears (limited to 18khz) to a pair of Stax Lambda earphones (over 40 kHz) . We don’t hear these frequencies but we’re able to appreciate the transients (according to the research on which Meridian based its development)

    From the fidelity point of view, it trumps everything else I have heard, including DSD; but I fear that it doesn’t get enough market traction and follows the way of Betamax, DVD-Audio (this would be Bob’s second defeat!) or ambisonics (the third defeat!).

    At the end, I think it will depend on Apple’s adopting it or not.

    • Interesting thought about Apple. With as closed of an environment as Apple has I don’t see them signing up with MQA and the necessary intrusive hardware snooping to get it working (from my understanding of the technology after reading Paul McGowan’s piece). And without hardware to decode MQA I don’t see them providing the files for purchase/streaming. But stranger things have happened. Maybe Apple will scoop up MQA for themselves! (and like Microsoft did with HDCD let it wither on the vine)

  35. So, someone that looks at a frequency plot of a MQA file decoded, may say that this is very poor design – the aliasing can sometimes be seen. However, I don’t plan to listen to music with a spectrum analyzer!

  36. Hello John,
    Really good read is usual, thank you. There is one point I would like to clarify about the sampling rates in your comparisons. For example you mention the MQA version of Muddy Waters “My Home Is In The Delta” being more convincing in MQA than the 24/192 PCM version but was the MQA a folded 24/192 file or a folded 24/44 file? In other words, in your comparison, is the original sampling rates always the same between the MQA and non MQA files?

    • All fears, skepticism and antipathy against MQA will vanish once you have heard it. It is too good to be true, but it is….MQA is the best progress in digital audio since the invention of the compact disc. The main reason why this is my personal conviction is that it is 100% forward and backward compatible and able to reconstruct the true analog performance of musicians from the past in a much better way than any other HD format. It is repairing pre- and post ringing AD time errors which are of much larger audible influence than the jitter paramoia we have been focussing on the last 10 years. Listen and you will see..!

      • I’ve been in this business too long to enjoy every revolutionary Emperor with and without clothes. As in all things Peter, we need to look at many factors, for a beginning, we only need to look at a few:
        1. I am very skeptical that MQA can “find” the fingerprint of any AD converter after many of these were not only discontinued, but even the notes of the recording, mixing and mastering engineers were thrown into the circular file. I find the claim that it can, about as sound as the stories one reads small children at bedtime. It’s amazing how many bridges are for sale all over the world and so many enthusiastic buyers.
        2. I have no doubt that those who have heard MQA may be hearing an algorithm that makes a few FR and phase corrections to an average of what listeners involved in its development preferred. An adjustment that makes most records sound “BETTER.” I do the likewise at home for different headphones and speaker systems, and ALL listeners are dumbstuck and think they are listening to an entirely different system with more air, depth, dimension, better and tighter bass, and more transparency. They say: “It sounds soooooo, real!”
        3. Jitter is not paranoia. Add some to your salad and see for yourself what it does. Jitter is bad.
        4. Most recordings during the last three decades were made using digital recorders of varying quality, far fewer in analog, some a mix of the two, and I and most listeners might be uninterested in another “conversion” to a recording type of someone’s “preference” that was not used at the original recording. The “true analog performance” – your words – with exceptions, are no longer available, or reliable, and have not been for decades.
        5. Pre-and-post ringing can be addressed far better by better software YOU control specifically for your system and room. As I had posted earlier.
        6. Robert Harley has his opinion and it is a good one. Except when it isn’t. I have mine. We both worked for the same audio magazine for years. I, at a time when advertising revenue and propaganda did not influence the copy.
        7. It is entirely plausible when I have enough experience with it (so far no one has), that I will agree with your and Robert’s assessment that MQA is the next best thing to being sandwiched between two 25-year old long-legged East European blonds with large racks on a hot summer night.

        • Andrew,
          Your last post is full of assumptions and presumptions too. Do not assume anything…
          The proof is in the pudding. 2L recordings offer free downloads of recording at cd resolution, 24/96, 24/192 and MQA. Perfect platform for comparisons and I did some even if my dac does not MQA; it has been claimed that the benefit could be heard even in this case. I downloaded 2L recording of the Joseph Haydn String Quartet In D, Op. 76, No. 5 – Finale.
          String quartet exemplify the difficulties for digital to reproduce tone and speed/transient of violins. Strings quartets just do sound awful to me and just non-real in digital formats until now even on very good playback equipment. LP’s sound truer with their limit dynamic range and all their other known flaws.
          It is not subtile MQA offers a truly realistic rendition of the string quartet whereas even 24/192 (although more dimensional out of my non-MQA dac) is typical with unrealistic transient, tone, no rhythmic togetherness, you name it, and as a result uninvolving.
          MQA sounds like vinyl with a much higher signal to noise ratio! Looks like a potential breakthrough to me even if more listening is required to make a final opinion. I invite you and other forum members to try this track and give feedback.

        • Ouch! I am very much surprised, even shocked with your feedback! Especially the one in which you raise doubts regarding mr. Harley’s integrity…Since you have been part of the same team of audio journalists, it provides us, readers of audio magazines and blogs like these a totally other kind of ‘inconvenient truth’….One where we, as ignorant readers and over-enthousiastic early adopters have to be aware that all audio journalists are dishonest and biased or bribed by the audio manufacturer of the product they review. I am sorry, but I do not share this dark view on humanity, where the ‘truth’ can only be purchased or enjoyed by the powerfull. I will continue to enjoy reviews by John Darko and Robert Harley and others and I will continue to believe their statements, certainly when they are as strong and clear as mr. Harley’s review in TAS issue from May this year. I have read AES articles from 10 years ago, written by Peter Mcgraven, the partner of Bob Stuart which show that the invention of MQA has been a long, technological road. There is much more science behind it than you seem to assume. It is an enourmous smart invention to actually use nowadays vast arithmic DSP processing power to correct for those huge digital anomalies from the past. I find it a bold statement, that you think it is impossible to retrieve all this past ADC – DAC information to be compensated for by the MQA algorithm. Did you ask Bob Stuart to get confirmation? Or do you believe he has no integrity as well..? Sad, really sad statements you seem to require in your reluctancy or fear to objectively listen and judge what you hear before denying it can bue true.

        • ” I, at a time when advertising revenue and propaganda did not influence the copy.”

          Andrew – you might be wrong, you might be right. What isn’t in doubt is the serious nature of your accusation that absolutely requires supporting evidence. Unless you have such evidence, kindly desist.

          Otherwise, I’m happy to entertain your continued involvement in this MQA discussion.

          • Understood John. That standard you propose needs to be applied to both sides of the argument, especially for those making the claim and making the money. 🙂 BTW, I have nothing against either the money being made, advancing the art as MQA claims, or capitalism. I support all three ideas.


            Is it my job to affirm the validity of a claim through which a few will change the industry permanently, and from which the same will make oodles of money?

            Or perhaps to question it? Perhaps my choice of words HOW I questioned it will rub some people wrong. i accept that and will apologize if I had. However, none of that rubbing wrong will change the questions or the importance of them.

            My words had conditions where I questioned myself too – and my questions still need to be answered with facts. They are answered with words. One way to get to the bottom of it would be the ability for independent parties who can evaluate it, to “view” the software. It not open source, we cannot see what it does. It is not mine, but the vendor’s responsibility, to offset questions based on gut feelings I share with others. I am not alone in them.

            As I stated, the jury is out, especially in the light of that there are a lot of people (I mean audiophiles) making claims for a technology they cannot and have not evaluated fully. By fully, meaning living with it, having enough material to make a case for or against it. Am I, after all, alone in positing questions that doubt the claims made for the technology – any technology? Am I alone to have an inquisitive mind? I doubt it.

            You won’t remember of course, but I was the one whom in the early eighties coined “Digital Sucks.” Obviously that slogan took off quite well, for decades in fact, and so far my predictions over time held up within the context of their times. Digital no longer sucks…it is in my limited opinion, a superior technology by a long shot. And yes, I have a high end analog system better than that of most reviewers.

            Do you think John, that maybe I should coin DIGITAL NO LONGER SUCKS? Perhaps I’ll skip that idea…not likely to go down well.

            Look, I’d rather not see the potential of digital recording technology or its playback shoeboxed with the lid taped with “a standard,” no matter how good it is, or how wrong I may be in my assumptions.

            As 720P, 1080i and now 4, 5, and 8K in digital imaging is becoming the norm, each a visible improvement, I say keep an open mind to discussions in which one may even disagree and rather, continue the criticism of any technology until the questions have been answered. After all, it is criticism that will shed light into inaccessible corners and move the art forward. Leave the defense of the dark to those who want to block the light.

            The bottom line is that unless we understand fully what MQA really is, and I certainly do not, as separate from the claims made for it, we need to question it. And mostly, to ask if it will block the path forward.

            The truth be told, I hope it is I who is DEAD wrong. That It is I who will be shown the light, that we have reached the pinnacle of the the digital medium. That there will be no “significant” room to move forward, and we can close the book on arguing about rates and jitter and wow and flutter. The last DAC we’ll buy for $2.99 sold in bubble packs will have MQA and we no longer will need to improve. Sorry about the length of this reply.

          • It is absolutely 100% your right to question things – I’ve no issue with that.

            What I do take issue with is are wild allegations of payola, brown envelopes or – in this case – advertising dollars influencing copy at TAS, for which the burden of proof lies with whoever is making that allegation – in this case, you! Anything else borders on the libellous and I won’t have it on these pages.

            Otherwise, as you were…

          • Of course it’s your website, it’s your call. This note need not be published, but perhaps you misunderstood my thinking. This subject, re. “libelous allegations, ” were repeatedly covered in the majors, forthright, a number of times. These journals just didn’t see it in the context of libel – which it is not. In other words, I was hardly the first to take notice, maybe the last. Look, it’s really not important to me, I have no skin in the game, and, more importantly, no allegations were made. It was just a comment and I have no idea who might feel libeled? We have very specific libel laws in my country and malevolent intent is part of them.

            One would have to be naive however to deny the existence of influence when we are both aware that such influence exists. Speaking for myself, were this an issue, which it is not, the discussion of it would not be verboten or censored in this land of free speech. The fact is, I have not met a single reviewer who would deny that influence exists. Or could exist.

            Rather, to be specific, and this observation has nothing to do with you – I do recognize we all need to make a living – I referred to, without identifying anyone, an ad copy in a major American publication inserted right within a glowing review of the very same item. And I brought it up with the editor of the self-same journal. If you contact me directly outside of this forumforum, I will disclose to you alone what that item is.

            These things do not go unnoticed.

            I do not approve of that practice. It’s just me and I’m only human. Skeptical, but a human nevertheless who recognizes human weakness AND human nature for what it is. Thanks for hearing me out.

          • It is a pity Andrew, that you are persisting to incriminate one of your former colleagues within the audio journalism industry. It merely reveals that you personally do not believe that integrity does not exist in this business. All reviewers, like yourself, are supposed to be biased and not objective when it gets down to describing and publishing what they hear, because the products are being advertised. I do not understand which party you are trying to disturb, but for sure it us not mine. Both mr. Stuart and mr. Graven are first of all engineers with a sound reputation and passiom for their work and music. After listening now for a week to several MQA recordings, I can assure you that the SQ improvement is fundamental and profound and it is a positive breakthrough which I encourage you to listen to for yourself.

            The 22 page article by Robert Harley from TAS is free available on the web, so we can all read and judge if this is nothing more than some biased marketing tool or if it indeed does provide us enough food for thought to actually test and judge MQA with our own ears..


          • Hi Peter, I do not take offense at your comments because I have no skin in the game and my opinions about and experiences with MQA are limited – as I said they were . To be specific, I have a right, just like any reader, to notice the conflict between advertising and copy in any publication. I do not believe, as you do, that I had identified which publication I might have cited, since I had cited no person or publication at all. As for “persisting to incriminate” is a bit much, since I didn’t “persist” and I didn’t “incriminate” anyone specific. I made a generalized statement like “the sky is blue.”

            The sky is blue except when it no longer is.

            Moreover, you have no evidence that I suggested there’s no integrity in this business. What I suggested is that influence can be overt, covert, subtle and not-so-subtle, and consensus does not “settle the science.” The science becomes unsettled as soon as someone bent on unsettling it takes measurements – and the consensus gets fragmented.

            The ones most protesting my words might be the ones most concerned for their own reasons and interests. Whatever their reasons are, I assume nothing by their reactions, since I didn’t incriminate anyone.

            I spoke about a subject that is an ongoing open forum among reviewers who speak to one another. One of the themes of this conversation is the difficulty avoiding the appearance of impropriety. Reviewers must have contact with designers and producers. Even having a drink with them is suspected by some. It is a legit subject that impacts on all our credibility and ability to work. It is not a slight on anyone in the business. Keeping the discussion open keeps us honest…keeps them honest…in other words, enhancing our credibility.

            The reputation of the inventors of MQA remain intact and I had never discussed it. I discussed the claims made for the technology I do not understand (but I am happy you do), and the necessity for a more convincing explanation of it which no one has given. You appear to have gotten very defensive having been an early adopter of the technology; and I’m sure you have an explanation for it. What I hear from your words Peter with my Golden Ears, is a similar narrative to what I heard decades ago when transistor amps first appeared, when quadrophonics first appeared, and when the CD first appeared.

            Based on this history and experience, excuse my skepticism Peter!

            Lastly, I appreciate the opinions of those promoting MQA, including yours, and the recounting of your experiences. I am aware that MQA appears to be beneficial for most people most of the time using most equipment. I am also aware of exceptions: equipment and setups, the sound of which are alleged by those knowledgeable, the voices of people I respect, to be superior to MQA’s SQ.

            I’ve given a clue to the availability of the latter. It is up to you to discover them for yourself.

  37. After listening for 3 days to the MQA authenticated music files from 2L, I started to listen to my usual music stored on the same USB stick and Tidal streams.

    To my pleasant surprise, all music sounds better than before. Not as magnificent as the 2L recordings, but significantly better. Tidal flac streams also sound quite a bit better. More refined, larger soundstage, much less harsh, more musical.

    So at this moment I have the impression that the MQA decoding algorithm ( which is now embedded on my DAC) , is actively correcting for post- and pre-ringing effects of the zetex 35 bit DAC chip processor. But, I have to be honest.. it can also be that the firmware upgrade of my DAC/amp contains other features and refinements which causes this musical improvement..

    I also question myself if all incoming .flac and .wav and HD bitstreams are partially corrected for ADC errors as well, using some kind of a ‘generic’ MQA ADC fingerprint, but this is pure speculation. I hope this will be clarified soon by real measurements.

    So what is the difference between playing MQA mode and MQA authenticated mode? To my impression, the MQA algorithm has influence on 3 different levels:

    – Embedded on a MQA music file, the pre- and post- ringing effects from the original ADC recording are compensated for already within these files and are therefore audible on non-MQA DAC’s
    – A DAC which applies MQA DSP is undergoing active DSP correction for its own pre- and post-ringing effects and therefore intrinsically enhances the performance of any MQA upgraded DAC chip.
    – Once a MQA authenticated music file is fed into the MQA-DAC, the DSP will recognize the MQA signature, unfolds to higher bitrate and corrects for all past ADC and current DAC post- and pre- ringing effects, and with this achieving the ‘holy grail’ of music reproduction via ‘transparant window’ back in time to the original recording

    So at this moment there are too many variables and I just sent an e-mail to the MQA website with questions. Will ask the same to NAD and hope to get some answers and will share them over here.

    I anyone has answers, I am interested to learn 🙂

  38. seems that my expectations on how the MQA is influencing the functionality of my DAC is wrong. Sorry for the fuzz..

    The Bluesound / NAD distributor in The Netherlands assured me that MQA does not temper with non-MQA music files and the recent firmware upgrade indeed contains not only MQA, but also other improvements with regard to the communication between BluOS MDC module and the 390DD.
    Future upgrades will enhance MQA performance further they tell me ( and I am already very much impressed 🙂

    I just saw an announcement that Meridian launched their Ultra Dac with MQA patent pending Hierarchical Converter Technology, which pushes the unit’s performance far beyond that of any Digital to Analogue Converter currently available on the market. This product is way out of my league, but it will teach us more what MQA is capable of and how it is really functioning.

    Much interested how the market and Meridian’s competition will reply and what the audio reviewers will have to tell us regarding this innovation.

  39. Do you know if the files such as Babylon Sisters were recent transfers from the analog tapes for the comparison? Or did they use their fingerprinting system on older digital transfers that are sold through download resellers etc?

  40. How would MQA handle music that never went through an ADC? For example music generated from a digital synth which doesn’t use analogue samples. Even though no ADC is involved, there is a theoretical ADC, in that a continuous signal is being sampled based on whatever algorithm the digital synth is using. Would MQA attempt to ‘fix’ its sampling algorithm?

    If MQA changes the tone of a file, then would it sound different to how the file was produced? In other words would the person doing the editing and mastering have been making decisions on how the non-MQA version sounds, rather than the MQA version? Would they mix it differently if they were listening to it MQA from end-to-end?

    • I think Stuart’s assertion is that he can fingerprint ANY device, from mics in the studio to speakers and amps in the home. However, for now, he is focussing on fixing the time domain errors caused by the ADC and DAC.

      When it comes to studio output of MQA, the mastering engineer can preview the MQA output as it might be heard on different DACs and devices. So yeah, engineers get some input.

  41. Additionally how would MQA handle music that contains audio samples from different ADCs?

    My guess is that it probably couldn’t.

    • Your guess vs. Bob Stuart’s extensive research and decades-long career in digital audio. I know which horse I’d back. 😉

      • But has he claimed he can do that?

        Specifically I mean the scenario where two sources are mixed together. So if one source has a certain timing error which is mixed with a different source which has a different timing error (during the same time period), you end up with two different timing errors rather than one. Has Bob Stuart claimed he can do that?

        • Your question is more involved than I can answer with any degree of accuracy or certitude and it’s best you ask him directly. I think Computer Audiophile might be doing a second Q&A with Bob Stuart soon.

  42. This deblurring process seems like pure snake oil. As if MQA has any clue what A/D converter was used originally and they all ring differently depending on type. MQA may well kill the HIFI industry. I know all the writers shilling for it are making it seem borderline conspiratorial. I bought two very expensive DACs (for me) last year. A Metrum and and an M2Tech. I love them both for different reasons. They play every format that matters. Yet, somehow they are obsolete and I need to add a lossy format to stay ahead of the curve. No thanks. This smacks of an end-to-end lockdown on the music industry, but I guess too many people are fearful of rocking the boat that puts food on their plate.

    • Craig – Shilling? Do you have any evidence to support that position or is it simply your opinion? Note that all funders of DAR are shown on this site for all to see – banner ads serve as a statement of interests.

      You say: “This deblurring process seems like pure snake oil.” Do you have listening experience and/or a technical critique of Bob Stuart’s white paper on the same to support that statement? Or is that again simply your opinion?

      Moreover, four days prior to this piece I penned an article exposing some of the negative issues relating to MQA:

      And before that a piece critical of the lack of music available:

      In other words, I’m covering MQA from every possible angle that I’m aware of.

      However, your concerns re. possible end to end lockdown are shared by others.

      If you don’t want to be involved in MQA, just ignore it. That’s what I mostly do with things I don’t care for.

  43. OK, so I’m sitting in the library in torrent whore mode (The Strain Season 2, FWIW) when it occurs to me that I have a 16/48 DAC in my bag and a completely unsanctioned pair of headphones (the, cough, Solo2). I download the MQA version of MAGNIFICAT and all I can think is ‘why cant all classical be this fantastically *accessible* ?’. I’m not going to download the 24/96 version and subject myself to the tedium of trying to hear differences – I went through that hell with DSD last year (Chord Hugo/Marantz SA-14S1 into Sennheiser HD800/Audeze LCD-X), only to come to the conclusion that I was much happier listening to music I knew and loved with the Fidelio X1 than playing silly audiophile games. If MQA has one major advantage over DSD, it has to be the size of the files, but I’ll leave the debate re SQ to the golden-eared among your readership.

    I can see an(other) unholy battle being waged if MQA does gain traction at the important end of the production process. I hope you can keep all sides honest, John – acronyms definitely sell DACs and I think we’re all getting a bit tired of it. Michael Fremer and the other vinyl zealots must be peeing their pants with laughter at our continuing attempts to remove the ‘digital nasties’ that plague our tender ears 😉

    • We own both, analog and digital nasties. Both technologies have nasties. Just different kinds of nasties. It’s a nastie world. Good FPGA DACs, presumably not what you heard, and good software on a MAC that can adjust for both pre-and-post ringing, dither and a whole lot of other digital nasties you cannot deal with otherwise, presumably not what you heard, changes the picture entirely from what you heard – and once the picture has changed, once the circumstances have changed, so opinion tends to change. For, let’s say, 2-6000 dollars, depending on what you are using for hardware. Take the MOJO for example, no small feat. And yes, I own a HUGO too.

      The price of each component in a digital system is less than the cost of my tonearm, or cartridge, and certainly less than my turntable. Or my preamp. Or a number of wires I have here. Or my girlfriend. And she’s even nastier. The worst part of this nastie (typo intentional) picture is that my wife doesn’t approve of any of it.

  44. Cost of entry for the sonic benefits of MQA is getting lower – I picked up a Bluesound Pulse 1st Gen this year on a closeout sale in sunny Singapore, and have been pleasantly surprised how I can tell hi-res from redbook and lossy (subtle for the first, but not subtle at all for the second). With a dac able to unpack 24/192, only dsd files are unplayable on this platform. And as for MQA –

    With the firmware update fed in as promised on the first of June, I loaded MQA files from 2L into the NAS along with the other hi-res versions and parked myself in front of the pulse to do some listening. Again, the pulse is an older generation product and effectively does mono – but –

    Strings are less edgy, voices are fuller and yes, the sense of ease is present, that simply isn’t there with redbook and below. I’ve already enjoyed the pulse with 24/192 piano content from the Open Goldberg Variations, for example, and was delighted with the sound, but lower bitrate MQA does make me want to listen longer and just feels that bit more right.

    Less glare? Checked. More ease? Checked. And all this from an end to end MQA product that cost me about usd$299 sale price. I’m sure you can do better stateside. If you don’t mind less soundstage or stereo separation, but want simply to enjoy (even more) the experience of listening, I believe that when Tidal turns on the MQA tap you’ll find it hard to tear yourself away like I have from what is in truth a glorified kitchen speaker.

    ‘Tis true that kool-aid is an acquired taste – but it does go down well.

  45. If digital mastertapes contain pre- and post- ringing distortion, wouldn’t it be logical that future remastering methods for both vinyl, as well as other media, will apply MQA during the remastering proces? If the algorithm is capable to clean-up this time distortion, than even an analog or digital copy of the mastertape and vinyl records will sound profoundly better, or not?

    • Good idea … if there is in fact a method to one time correct in software the negative artifacts of an ADC process.

      If there are problems on the ADC and DAC processes, any incremental improvement has value. Fix the ADC end, then for those that choose to replace their hardware to get an MQA compliant DAC, they can get yet another level of improvement … of course, that’s assuming that the MQA process can be broken down like this.

      Better yet, why wouldn’t every ADC manufacturer want to incorporate this correction into their ADC digital output in any new products they develop?

      • Hi Darren, the MQA developers are aiming also to the content producers and content providers see

        What fascinates me most is that the MQA algorithm seems to be capable to compensate for past errors which are captured on the original digital recordings and master tapes. So if mastering engineers and studio’s provide the MQA team exact information regarding the digital recording chain, especially which type of ADC(s) was used during the recording and mastering process, these errors can be neutralised / minimised. I expect many publications and test measurements will follow regarding this phenomenal technical solution.

        Interesting to see that even nowadays high-end recording studio’s like 2L who are using DSD recording and DXD mastering technology, but also offer MQA downloads. I am interested to learn how the DSD files sound compared to the MQA versions, but my home setup is unable to reveal this I suppose..

  46. For those interested in MQA releases, I just found these albums – just select by cursor the codec MQA

    MQA-Release! “Tingvall Trio – Beat”

    MQA-Release! “Eddie Nuenning & Friends – Songs for quiet Nights”

    MQA-Release! ” Martin Tingvall – Distance”

    there are probably more available on this website 🙂

        • Still just 0.0000000000000001% of all music available.. MQA has a very long road ahead.. 🙂

          • There is an article in on MQA with an interview with Bob Stuart and Morten Lyndberg from 2L. I realize there that so far all conversions to MQA are from digital masters – MQA is not yet used for recording and mixing – even for insiders like 2L.

            This means:
            – we are still at a very early stage of the process. If Morten doesn’t record with MQA, then nobody does!
            – the quality of integral MQA releases can be much better than what we’ve already seen (we have only the time deblurring but not the quantization improvements in both time and amplitude domains that will only come with MQA recording)
            – we may see a first batch of MQA releases that will light the green led, and in some more time we may expect to see a much better job, including remixing the original tracks, that lights the blue light. The advantage with Tidal is that me might enjoy the first release without having to buy it!
            – the quality

          • Hi,
            I am not sure if MQA codec is required to use during the recording session in order to enable the time correction for the applied A-D converters. 2K is recording in native DSD an mastering is done in PCM DXD format. The MQA remasters are produced using the DXD master and folded into 24/48 package and contain the AD characteristics of the converters used during the mastering process. When playing the MQA files, the algorithm unfolds to 24/384 resolution, corrects for both ADC as well as DAC aliasing filtering effects. It is indeed of interest to find out if it is true that MQA is not essentially required to use during the recording sessions itself, but if it works just as good afterwards, as long as all ADC characteristics are fully mapped..

  47. Anyone know if Rob Watts of Chord has an opinion about MQA? I haven’t read anything where he discusses anything for or against MQA? Would be interested in his opinion since I guess he’s designing an ADC?

  48. Sign me in when MQA content streams 24/96 on Tidal or similar…outside of that have no interest repurchasing thousands of tracks and a additional MQA capable DAC. The sound quality is better but not a deal breaker like 525 NTSC versus 1080p. The difference is more akin to MAC Retina Pro versus 5K iMac.

      • John, I know I shouldnt take any notice of haters on social media, but when I search YT for more info on TIDAL, the vast majority of vids are from people who are either predicting its imminent demise or bitching about Jay-Z’s love-in style launch and the unbearable hype surrounding it. I’ve seen one of your earlier replies re the fact that you have little interest in the music from most of TIDAL’s banner artists but that the catalog includes a lot more than hip-hop and pop – I get that, but at this stage I really want to see how things pan out for TIDAL as a viable business (remember MOG ?) before I spend any shekels. Good to see you back online, and I hope my regular visits didnt bring the site down 😀

        • Isn’t that a little like saying you won’t buy a Tesla 3 before the Tesla 4 hits the market? 😉

          • Point taken, but having used the LCD-2R2 for all of two weeks before buying the LCD-3, I know exactly what it feels like to tell oneself ‘I shoulda waited for the Tesla 4 !’ 😉

      • Obviously, MQA is planning on making their money with streaming services, because they think there’ll be a gazillion subscribers streaming their licensed content. Most of them probably won’t be audiophiles.

  49. If MQA is a time-correcting piece of DSP software which is capable to compensate for past ADC errors but also present DAC errors, does it mean that it intrinsically is capable to improve the DAC performance also when playing non- MQA coded digital musuc files? As I understand it, these time-domain faults are present in each DAC, so it would be a big plus if MQA is embedded on the DAC after a firmware upgrade, that at least the DAC performance will be enhanced by the technology without being dependent on MQA coded music streams.

  50. Apologies for being a bit late for the party but I have been dealing with the aftershocks of recently moving house 1000 km!

    This morning I downloaded some 2L MQA files and the corresponding 192/24 versions – except for the North Country II which was only available in 96/24. I firstly listened to them with a pair of passive $1k 2-way bookshelf speakers I have been working on – then on my 4-way DEQX-active reference speakers that have very low distortion drivers including Scan-Speak Be tweeters. Front end is a dedicated PC running Jriver MC21 with Jremote – and very low distortion Hypex NC500 and NC122MP amps.

    Even with the cheaper speakers it was very obvious that the MQA files were different – and to my ears better – though of course the differences were even more noticeable on the more expensive ones. They sounded more ‘real’ and ‘natural’ – I don’t like the term ‘analog’ as I think LP systems generally sound more ‘muddled’ with the high distortion of their cartridges etc. On the other hand the non-MQA hires files sounded as if the brightness had been turned up too high – I have often found this a problem with 2L recordings in the past. The Hayden String Quartet was almost unlistenable except with MQA. But there was also noticeable improvement on low notes on the North Country II track with the opening LH notes seemingly more distinct with MQA.

    I am not sure ‘why it is so’ as I am still trying to understand exactly what MQA does and more particularly when – and how this interacts with one’s DAC. I know my DEQX HDP4 resamples all its inputs to 96 kKz for its DSP processing of Xovers and driver amplitude & time correction before sending the outputs to separate DACS for each driver. The HDP4 certainly does not have MQA decoding currently built-in but I guess the MQA files may built-in corrections for the 2L recording processes including ADCs and pre-ringing compensation for the DEQX DACs? I noticed that Jremote thought most of the MQA files were 44.1/24 except for the North Country one that was 48/16. I must try also to get my head around the Craven & Stuart patent application that gives a lot of detail on aspects of MQA – as it must if the patent is not be found to be ‘inutile’ (not able to be used) – there is a reduced form at
    where (as a patent examiner in an earlier life) I taken out the patent legalese i.e. the formal ‘Claims’ and their (unnecessary) dumping into the ‘Description’.

    Of course it may all depend on some jiggery pokey with the 2L files themselves – it would be good to try the MQA Gaucho tracks as I have them already as 96/24 and 88.2/24 DSD/DSF files. However to end on a positive note, I met Bob Stuart a couple of times when I was working for Linn in the late 1980s and I have rarely come across a smarter or nicer bloke!

    • Errata: Apologies – Jremote showed the MQA files were 24 bit and not 16 bit as stated above.

      • Reading the MQA patent application in more detail may provide a possible pointer as to why some of the 2L MQA recordings sounded to me better/less bright than the 192/24 originals even when played in non-MQA systems. However I am not an electronics engineer and so may be wrong!

        As shown if fogs 4 and 5A during the process of downsampling in the MQA encoders the anti-aliasing filters usually cause a droop in the (amplitude) response curve at the downsample anti-aliasing frequency i.e at 48 kHz which is half of the downsample frequency of 96 kHz in the case discussed (but presumably is 24 kHz with a downsample frequency of 48 kHz as used in some of the 2L MWA files). This drooping can be quite significant – by up to -10 dB depending on the anti-aliasing filter.

        Such attenuation of high frequencies would obviously cause a significant change in the tonal character of the music, in particular it would sound much less bright as I noticed on the 2L samples, particularly of the Hayden Quartet . I sometimes put such a 5-10 dB roll-off at 48 kHz in the parametric equalizer of my HDP4 in one its four (easily selectable) profiles for playing classical music because as Richard E Green often points out this sort of high frequency attenuation occurs in a concert hall due to sound absorption by intervening air when one has seats further back whereas many classical recordings are close miked to the players and so give an unnaturally bright (if more impactful) sound.

        A similar drooping/attenuation also occurs in the upsampling anti-aliasing filters as used in an MQA decoder at palyback. However, also according to the patent description, these attenuations/droopings may be counteracted by ‘flattening’ filters that can occur in the downsampling encoders or in the upsampling decoders (if the latter is used) – or both. At one point the patent application seems to be saying that it is best to do all the flattening in the upsampling decoder (in which case the unflattened signal transmitted from the encoder will have a frequency droop) because it leads to a better (sharper) impulse response with the higher upsample frequencies. But later it discusses using a flattening filter that is symmetrical about the Nyquist frequency in both the encoder and the decoder.

        Thus where the flattening occurs seems to be a matter of choice (and how much will depend on the anti-aliasing filters used) but is presumably transmitted as meta-data with the MQA file so an MQA decoder DAC can take it into account (through the coefficients to the FIR filters it uses). However if a non-MQA DAC such as my DEQX HDP4 is used it obviously cannot compensate for anything that occurs in the MQA downsampling encoder.

        What 2L has done in encoding the MQA files is an open question – and so how it impacts non-MQA playback is also not clear. However I guess it means that one just has to get an MQA decoder to get the real benefits of what seems to me is quite an extraordinary invention.

        • Not that it matters at this point in time, but about two weeks ago I wrote here:

          “2. I have no doubt that those who have heard MQA may be hearing an algorithm that makes a few FR and phase corrections to an average of what listeners involved in its development preferred.”

          Do you think your observations and mine diverge, one from the other?

          • I don’t think we necessarily diverge. The MQA files from 2L have obviously been altered from the originals in the MQA encoding process. What is not clear is exactly how. Is it only the anti-aliasing filters needed for the downsampling? Or have the “flattening” filters also been included at this stage? And have 2L taken the opportunity to effectively remaster the recordings by additional amplitude and phase ‘corrections’ as I think you are suggesting?

            According to the patent application the first two processes can be undone (ie are not lossy) during the upsampling in an MQA decoder by suitable choice of filters and so won’t be heard – but obviously won’t be undone if a non-MQA DAC is used so any frequency and phase changes introduced during the encoding will be heard. And of course any remastering changes will be heard in both MQA and non-MQA playback.

        • Hi Rod,

          Do you realize that MQA has the intrinsic potential to neutralize pos- and pre-ringing of any DAC which will incorporate MQA…? Maybe this news is even more important than the other aspects of the invention. I have no reply yet from the MQA team if suc MQA equipped DAC’s will indeed function with 10x lower pre- and post- ringing effects even without MQA encoded music files…. This will depend on the marketing strategy by MQA I suppose. If the codec will only work when MQA streams are fed-in, this would be a bit unfair to my point-of-view.. So I would think this is an important question which needs to be answered soon, preferably with some objective measurements of standard DAC performance and DAC with incorporated MQA functionality comparing non-MQA and MQA files

          • Mostly in reply to Rod. I don’t think 2L is doing any manipulation of the kind I cited. I think MQA alone is doing these. In other words, I am speculating that 2L has no reason to modify its recordings to comply with some arbitrary MQA “ideal” setup…only to use MQA’s throughput in one or another sample of their recordings, and not in others, specifically for comparison and demonstration purposes. That they do sound different, one from the other, is the point, and is to be expected.

            Moreover, not being qualified to examine the patents, nor having access to the patents, I cannot comment of the effects of the calculations on quantization, dither or pre-and-post-ringing filters. What appears that Rod confirmed is that some FR effects have been measured and are audible, as we would expect they would be. The effect of pre-and-post ringing however are more debatable and tests would be needed to assess the nature and level of audibility of either technique – or combinations of.

            As for Peter’s assurances: “Do you realize that MQA has the intrinsic potential to neutralize pos- and pre-ringing of any DAC which will incorporate MQA…?” I’m not so sure, other than hearing his words. Peter adds: ” I have no reply yet from the MQA team if suc MQA equipped DAC’s will indeed function with 10x lower pre- and post- ringing effects even without MQA encoded music files….” I will hold my breath. I suggest you do likewise.

            As for you ending comments, I agree. We need to know more…a lot more. And we need to explore alternatives and other technologies before we settle the science, not because they might match the current fad’s SQ, but because they might surpass it.

          • Hi Andrew and Rod,
            I’ve sent a message to John Atkinson from Stereophile, asking him if he can get a hold of an MQA certified DAC and requested him to take a closer look into the DAC’ s impulse performance before and after certification.
            I agree we need to be informed better by MQA, but it might probably well be a part of their business model to convince not only end-users of the ‘blessings’ of their patented algorithm, but also record companies and -studios. I do respect that, but the public cannot be waiting too long I suppose.

          • Hi Peter (and Andrew)

            Apologies for the delay in replying but I was on the road most of yesterday.

            The MQA patent application doesn’t have a lot to say about ringing referring mainly to an earlier AES paper by Craven to which I don’t have access (unlike patent applications to which everyone has access). However the patent application does say:

            “Thus, z-plane poles in the encoding filter are cancelled by zeroes in the decoder. In the time domain, any ringing caused by the legacy flattener in the encoder is quenched by the corresponding ‘legacy unflattening’ in the decoder, and this is one of the ways in which the total impulse response of the combination of encoder and decoder is more compact than that of the encoder alone.”

            I am not an expert on electronics (just a physicist and one-time patent examiner) but can accept that the MQA process as a whole, with correctly chosen filters in the encoding and decoding stages, can minimise (even eliminate) ringing for that overall process. However what I find hard to appreciate is that one can reduce ringing that is already present in the original file before encoding without other side-effects – if for no other reason that time and frequency (& phase) are inevitably connected through the Fourier Theorem.

            To me it is also a bit like saying that once distortion is introduced into a signal it can be removed. My simple image is that distortion (changes from the original) only accumulates but one type of (earlier ‘nasty’) distortion might be masked by another (later ‘euphonic’) distortion. The classical case is use of valves (or rather their output transformers), turnatable cartriges etc to mask poor recording of the musical event. I guess it was this possible extra-MQA processing to which I referring in my reply to Andrew. But I repeat I am not sure about these things and would also like to be enlightened.

            I certainly do not want to be seen to be knocking MQA. If it leads to better reproduction of music then I am all for it. Unfortunately I am not one of those people usually enjoys music no matter how it is reproduced – just as I don’t generally enjoy photographs taken through poor cameras – though in both cases if the subject matter/composition/execution etc of the artistic side is poor then the technology is irrelevant anyway!

  51. John, you’ve given Schiit a lot of props over the years, but AFAIK you’ve never reviewed the Yggdrasil – is that in the pipeline or has the world simply moved on to the other multibit DACs ? I raise this because of Schiiit’s very vocal opposition to attempts by various vested interests to convince us that Redbook PCM just isnt good enough – if they have a valid point, I think that should be part of the discussion. I like the ‘Authenticated’ part of MQA, or at least the promise it holds, but not if it means that Bob Stuart has to have his fingerprints over the music I love before I can ‘truly appreciate what the artists intended’. Didnt Neil Young make exactly the same promise when he launched Pono Music ??

    • Schiit didn’t have review units for the Yggy when I enquired so I chose to write about the multibit Gungnir for which review units WERE available. The way I understand it from Jason @ Schiit is that as one moves from Yggy to Gumby to Biffy, a little accuracy is surrendered in the name of euphony.

      • Thanks John – apparently the ‘mby’ nicknames get under the skin of a few of our more starch-shirted (or hair-shirted ..) capital-A audiophiles. Schiit should have tagged the Bifrost Multibit the Bilby, complete with a Tassie Devil style cartoon mascot, esp given that none of their Norse mythology makes any more sense than the ‘Fulla’ or ‘Wyrd’. This is a hobby which has middle-aged men taking themselves far too seriously – last time I checked, we arent curing cancer.

        • “This is a hobby which has middle-aged men taking themselves far too seriously – last time I checked, we arent curing cancer.”

          Amen to that.

          • Of course people get obsessed by their (private) hobbies – golf, card-playing, photography, wine tasting, gardening – you name it! They are perhaps some of the few areas of life we can get obsessive without doing too much harm!

            It is hard to imagine that music can be taken too seriously given it probably preceded language and is important to our emotional, if not intellectual, well-being. But I suspect cancers, like viruses & bacteria, are probably mutating moving feasts for which there may never be a final solution, only more of the partial ones we already have, despite pouring many many billions of research dollars over the last 50 years – orders of magnitude greater than audio research!

            However I guess this condemns me to being an audiophile “middle-aged man” or worse!!

  52. @Rod, we’ve all been there, but I came to audio much later in life than many involved in the hobby and it strikes me as odd that the best way to express one’s feelings for gear or a medium is to bag pretty much everyone else. It’s not a terrifically inclusive hobby when you still have people who cant conceive that anyone could possibly enjoy music that has been distilled to ones and zeros, regardless of how those ones and zeros are rendered as electrical impulses by our gear and our gigantic brains 😀

  53. The only real way to compare an MQA encoded file is with the original master tape anything else is not a true comparison.

    • This counts for every other format as is impossible though to achieve this in our living rooms. So next best is to compare against each other and trust your judgement.

  54. No one seems to be able to answer my question related to MQA DAC certification and the (potentially..) intrinsic consequences it has on the soundcharacteristics of such an accredited DAC.

    At the end, the MQA algorithm is an active DSP protocol which contains both information of the compensation for the time-smearing of past A/D errors as well as the ‘measured and calibrated’ time smearing effects of the D/A errors of the DAC. The MQA DSP is able to correct for the sum of these errors when the DAC is fed with a MQA authenticated FLAC stream, minimizing all time-smearing errors by an audible factor of at least 10..

    But again…what is MQA able and ‘allowed’ to do with the calibration information of the DAC when it is playing non-MQA encoded files..? If the MQA will be able to improve the impulse response of a MQA calibrated DAC intrinsically, will both the DAC manufacturer and the MQA team allow such an improvement to be used in all situations? On paper this seems to be a possibility, but there might be technical or other reasons why this is or is not implicated..

    In my personal situation, I am unable to judge what the influence of the MQA certification is contributing to the changed soundcharacteristic of my integrated streamer-DAC-amp which uses Direct Digital Feedback Amplification based on the same 35 bit PWM architecture as the NAD M1 DAC. A recent upgrade enabled MQA decoding, but other streamer module- DAC communication have been implemented as well. The overall performance has been improved significantly, but if this is achieved by the MQA DSP or other DSP firmware changes is yet unclear.

    In general, MQA is a highly sophisticated DSP algorithm, which requires access to the core of the manufacturer’s DAC. It is of interest for all interested those in MQA, what is possible and impossible with regard to MQA certification of a DAC and if it Can be implemented on all types of DAC’s in the market or not and how such a certification is performed. Will the MQA engineers measure a full sound signature /impuls performance behaviour of the complete DAC including all digital and analog parts? Is this measured characteristic a constant fingerprint which is corrected and optimised for at all times and how? All questions, speculations and deductions, nothing more untill now.

    On july 16th I will attend a MQA presentation where the Meridian Ultradac will be demonstrated. So I do hope this will be a true A/B demonstration and I do hope to be able to hear the impact of this ‘holy grail’ of HD audio. A format which is able to re-construct the analog performance of truncted digital masterpieces in a superior way than all other re-mastering methods have been able to achieve, should be a blessing for all audiophiles out there.. Especially those guys left in this segment, aged 50-ish who cherish their musical memories and hoping to get stunned when listening to ‘Riders in the storm’ by the Doors for example, as if it was newly recorded yesterday..

    So let’s listen and see..!

    • Peter, I look forward to hearing your conclusions from of the upcoming MQA presentation and whether some of your questions are answered on how MQA players handle non-MQA files – as well as how MQA files affect ‘legacy’ (non-MQA) players (precisely where flattening from the filters occurs etc). I can imagine that modern DAC chipsets that are DSP-based could (in principle at least) change the output filters on the basis of these incoming files, although this might not happen with older and non-DSP type DACs? But I am not an electronics engineer, let alone a DAC expert!

      I have however been ferreting around the MQA patent applications as an ex-patent examiner. There have been 2 patent applications made through WIPO (the World Intellectual Property Organization) that saves having to make separate initial applications to each country. The applications are WO2014108677 for the impulse minimisation and WO201318656 for the “origami’ compression-decompression.

      As usual both have been subject to an International Search Report (ISR) and to an International Preliminary Examination (IPE) as part of the WIPO process. And in both cases adverse findings have been made as to their novelty and inventiveness (the prime patentability criteria) relative to the prior art (previous work). These preliminary findings are not necessarily fatal to the patent being granted when they enter ‘National Phase’ i.e. when separate applications must be made to and examined in each country where the applicants seek to gain the exclusive rights of a patent. However the applicants would almost certainly have to modify their Claims (precise legal statements of these exclusive rights for 18? years).

      And of course even if the patents were not granted some of the intellectual property could be protected as ‘trade secrets’ but the negotiations for licensing might be more complex. As I have stated before I personally would like MQA to succeed if it does allow for better listening to music – even the Doors (who I don’t particularly like)!.

      • Hi Rod, thanks for your feedback and research with regard to the patents. I will let you (and others interested in this forum) know what I will be able to find out and if questions will be answered. Of great interest is a A/B comparison and the impact which the deblurring process will prove to have when playing older digital recordings.
        Meanwhile I called the guys at Rhapsody High End audio in Hilversum. The team over there have a solid reputation with regard to state-of-the art Audio but also are well known within the recording industry. They formerly produced high-end music recordings under the label Turtle Records, using Spectral and Avalon as their monitoring gear. Since a couple of weeks they are demonstrating the Meridian UltraDAC so I called them and asked if MQA is as good as it promises to be. The answer was very convincing: never before we heard such an excellent reproduction of a digital recording. It is as if listening to the best analog recording..We immediately purchased a license for MQA. So for me this was yet another confirmation that MQA is a game changing DSP. I was also informed that many recording studios have applied for a license, not only Warner…! So it seems a lot is going on behind the fence. The succes of MQA is much more depending on the acceptance within the recording industry than in the high-end audio business. Much more demonstrations and listening sessions need to be organised, but step by step the ‘truth’ will be revealed 🙂

        • Peter, considering the extraordinary work you are doing for promoting Meridian’s technology, you might consider not working for free. I mean, if I were you, I would start sending them daily invoices. Trust me, they can afford another PR firm and you will be able to buy every MQA DAC in the universe. The least they can do is to send you a Thank You note or their top DAC.

          Look at it this way: if MQA decoded the master file exactly as it played on the original, or made it far better than the real thing even, and even if it dispensed frothy cappuccino with ground cinnamon on top, than every MQA enabled DAC will sound just like any other… The $9000 the same as the one selling for $9.99 in bubble packs. And soon in your mobiles for far less than that. Like for free. It can’t get any cheaper than that… More or less the same as bootlegged CDs and Windows.

          In other words, if the cheap MQA DAC represented perfection, I know of no path to improve on perfection just on the basis of spending more loot. It’s the end of the road, and we’ll need another hobby to pursue our obsessions, no?

          Would you consider birdwatching?

          • Hi Benjamin,

            I understand your perception.. and yes, I am a bit over enthusiastic with regard to MQA. But rest assured, I have not any interest in doing this for commercial reasons or supporting Meridian in some way at all..!

            My intuition just tells me that his technology has the potential to change the landscape of future digital music reproduction. I have been disappointed too many times with current technology and HD downloads of albums which I own for years.

            The digital ‘glitch’ keeps annoying me and I am not in favor of following this other trend in the audio market: going back to vinyl and (high-speed) analog reel-to-reel recording and playback again.. Now even the cassette player is in the picture and all this is history and sentiment for me.. not a step forward like MQA seems to be capable to achieve.
            The fact that I have notice quite a lot of hostility and fear on this and other platforms with regard to this new technology, triggers me even further to dig in and reveal ‘the truth’ with regard to this development.

            The Meridian UltraDAC might potentially set a new standard, but I also am much aware that I am unable to purchase this product. My background is different and coming from my personal NAD Bluesound / Tidal setup which I own and on which I am able to play and listen to MQA and from what I am currently experiencing is that it does bring the music in my living room to another, more realistic level. There are some questions and limitations though. The chipset my system has is using DDFA technology and consists a lot of DSP functionality, which NAD seems to have used properly during their most recent V2.89 firmware upgrade. What I hear is that the overall performance of the DAC has improved a lot, but for ALL sorts of music files..

            When playing for example the album ‘Beat’ from Tingval Trio via Tidal (16/44) and I compare this 1:1 with the purchased and downloaded MQA version which is being unfolded to 24/192, there is a large difference in SQ and the MQA version wins with ease. But currently there are too many variable at once which make it difficult to compare.

            For me and others, this is just the beginning.. In case Tidal will start streaming the same album, I will compare again. I wish for all audiophiles, that MQA will prove to be an affordable and perfect solution for streaming digital music which will sound as good as in the studio. This should not be available only for top-end products like the UltraDAC, but also other products, like Bluesound and some mobile products like pioneer, onkyo and LG cell phones for example.

            For those DAC manufacturers who are unable to incorporate the MQA DSP there might be other ways to decode MQA and feed the decode stream into their DAC. I have some ideas which might enable this, but I will not yet share them right now.

            There are still a lot of questions to be answered, but first I want to be ‘flabbergasted’ this weekend when I will audition this Meridian DAC and witness the sound quality improvement of old recordings. This is the part which interests me most 🙂

          • The DAC in the LG mobile is quite adept. Not in MOJO territory, but for the road good enough and superior to many outboard portable DACs.

          • Benjamin, it is possible to be enthusiastic about something yet still sceptical/questioning – scientists do this all the time.

            Even if MQA produced perfection (and I don’t think anyone does) from ADC input to DAC output with all the transmission steps in between, there are still the imperfections that happens between the DAC output and your ears – the amplification and loudspeakers plus room (or headphones). So you don’t have to take up bird-watching quite yet!

  55. John, I think its fair to say that you’ve unleashed a hornet’s nest, the likes of which is usually reserved for 15k cables and the like. Dont get me wrong – I’d like to *try* those 15K cables with a pair of 200K speakers as much as the next pleb among your readership – but I’m very keen to read your review of the Explorer2 with MQA files. Nothing else Meridian makes is even within cooee of the moth sanctuary I laughingly refer to as my wallet, so you can color me interested on that one, big guy. Keep ’em coming.

  56. Very interesting and indeed almost forgotten aspect this absolute polarity aspect.
    Since much music is offered via streaming streaming services, wouldn’t it be easier if Tidal and others will correct for the absolute polarity? Not everyone has, or is interested in MQA, so if it is technically achievable, I suggest the content provider should clear this out.
    Many DAC’s have a polarity switch as well. I will check your list and do some tests. Thanks for bringing this under our attention.

  57. Yesterday evening I had the opportunity to listen to MAQ at the retailer ‘Beter Beeld en Geluid’ (Better Vision and Sound) in the city of Hilversum in The Netherlands. The Meridian distributor for Benelux Viertron co-organised the demonstration. The instruments used were:
    – Meridian UltraDAC + integrated pre-amplifier
    – CH precision a1 dual mono amplification
    – Vivid Audio G2 loudspeakers
    The demonstration started with playing normal CD quality via Roon, followed by DSD via DoP and MQA.
    The overall presentation of all music, with all sorts of music files played was impeccable. Soundstage, depth, micro- and macro-dynamics, all in perfect balance.
    Then the first MQA master authenticated song from Frank Sinatra was played. A mono recording, but the impact was quite intense for all of us. The sound was truly analog, natural and surrounded the audience in a more intense way than the other music we played. Later on, my first confrontation with The Doors – riders on the storm… also very natural, detailed, present. But we asked for comparison as well. Marijn Nederlof from Viertron / Meridian explained beforehand that comparing A/B on the UltraDAC is not fully objective, since the time-blurring of the D/A converter is not present and always compensated / corrected for..! This confirms part of my thoughts and listening experience with my NAD C390DD DAC I told him, so is it true that the MQA DSP is always ‘active’ in neutral mode? That depends on the DAC manufacturer and how they implement their DSP and MQA settings.. So a partial answer to my question with regard to intrinsic time-coherency improvement of a MQA accredited DAC.
    So the demonstration proceeded, this time riders on the storm, the 16/44 DCC remastered version made by Steve Hoffman. Wow..! this was even better, more ‘feel’ tonal balance, presence. We all agreed that this version sounded better than the MQA version, also mr Nederlof confirmed this and the explanation for this is that it all depends which master was used for the production of the MQA and the DCC version. It was an honest and open discussion and plausible, since the original analog tapes seem to be lost or unplayable. This made it clear that the label ‘MQA’ does not always have to be made from the best available source.. The same counts for HDtracks and other re-masters I would say. Re-mastering is a tough job and many versions are available. There are large sound difference between Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab and other remasters, we all know this. So this topic was an eye- and ear-opener 🙂
    Other MQA encoded music sounded impressively analog-like as well. It was clear for all of us that you have to hear it to believe and judge it. It makes no sense giving comments from the sideline, just witness and experience it personally, than you will know what MQA will add to your enjoyment of listening to your favorite music.
    The MQA encoding is being done by a 7.500,- Euro costing MQA ‘machine’ which is able to detect the past A/D errors like photoshop software is able to recognize and correct for the type of camera lens was used during taking a photograph. This process is currently being done by 7Ldigital for their complete library. The Dutch Recording studio Wisseloord is one of the larger 8 Recording studio’s worldwide who are testing and implementing MQA. It confirms that more is going on than is reported, but the take-off is slow.. It has to do with the complex process of royalties. But it is all in the pipeline and MQA will come and stay, that is quite clear.
    So I asked why Meridian is not supplying us with a MQA sampler CD or downloads, like Dali, Sennheiser, Silltech and other audio manufacturers do. Licensing per song should not be that difficult or expensive and it will demonstrate MQA capabilities much more convincing than only the 2L testbench or high-end recorded recent material. But MQA is especially developed for streaming services, so we still need to be patient.
    It was a pleasant evening and for me personally a positive confirmation of what MQA is capable of.
    The wikipedia page on MQA is growing day by day:

    • I think MQA from analog master tapes is always gonna be a mixed bag. Chris Connaker from CA said he couldn’t be sure if he heard any difference between some of the MQA and Non-MQA demo tracks.

      Steve Hoffman has recently done The Best of the Doors on SACD which is probably even better.

    • While you mentioned analog, or analog-like in your comments about MQA, inquiring minds are left with a few questions: Since when, and which planet, is analog a standard to be matched or to be the goal? I believe I had explained a few items with regard to the question: a. LP is not the standard; half inch tape is better. b. Half inch tape is not the standard; direct-to-disc is far better.

      The standard is a direct mic or line feed from the studio to the monitors. If the feed is split, one to an analog, the other to a digital recorder, one can determine which is better: analog or digital. The few who have conducted such experiments against the live mic feed found that the digital recording was closer. Thus a standard is established. An analog LP does not even come close.

      Now we need to throw MAQ into the fray, along with several digital sampling rates, and all too, with using proper digital engines such as iZotope and GoodHertz, both of which will make any recording sound quite different – better by a long shot, or analog – like if you will – than the same without these tools.

      Going back to your remarks with respect to MAQ being analog sounding, I’d aver I haven’t the faintest notion what you mean, nor do I know if you and the others present compared MAQ, CD, or other digital media to analog of any kind to have made the authoritative statement you had made.

      I’d venture an educated guess (as opposed to an uneducated one) that none of you have. And if I’m wrong about this guess, I’ve been known to eat other’s hats, including mine.

      • Hi Andrew Benjamin,

        What I am trying to express with the words ‘analog’ and ‘natural’ is the difference in sound which a MQA authenticated music file played via a DAC sounds like in comparison with the other digital formats we listened to. As you know, the music industry started recording digitally in the early 90’s and we all thought that digital was better. But our ears are a critical tool and not all digital records sound well. The same counts for digital remasters etc.

        One of the most famous recording engineers within the audiophile community) who was not satisfied with the sound quality of digital recordings, was prof. Keith Johnson from Reference recordings. In order to conquer these flaws, he developed HDCD, a format with which 20bit resolution was achievable via normal CD and encoder. I am very interested if Prof. Johnson is interested in MQA. The same counts for David Chesky from Chesky records. Business wise they might have a problem with it, especially David Chesky, since he owns HDtracks..

        Nowadays we see some audiophiles going back to the ‘blessings’ of all analogue recording and playback and are purchasing refurbished reel-to-reel tape recorders and tapes. Some recording studios are also bringing true analog recording back to life and there is a new market of professionally refurbished high-speed analog recorders out there ( Studer, Revox)

        The persons at Rhapsody High-End and Wisseloord studio are professionals with regard to recording music and the statement of MQA being closest to the best analog recording came from their mouth. I have to be honest that I have not witnessed a true comparison of such a high-speed analog recording and a digital MQA recording, but who knows, this might happen one of these days..
        The most underestimated, annoying and audible effect with relation to digital recording and -playback is that our ears are capable to notice ‘jitter’ and ‘time-smearing’ effects, which are intrinsically present within a digital recording – mastering – production – playback matrix. What the MQA algorithm is capable of ( and that is truly unique) is to correct for both PAST A/D as well as CURRENT D/A time-smearing effects. All this together with the 24 bit / 384 resolution neutralises all digititis , glitches and other commonly known and audible nasty sound contributions as we have been listening to since years with the 16/44 CD format. It also explains why MQA authenticated music can only be played via a MQA accredited DAC, which is capable to process all parameters of past A/D errors including its own D/A errors and neutralise this complex ‘interference pattern’ via a very smart DSP algorithm. This is what MQA is all about..and end-to-end process!

        I just searched for some articles which might provide some extra insight regarding this topic. Analog recordings are also not the ‘holy grail’ I expect..

        • Peter, to tell you the truth, we don’t know what MQA does other than what it claims it does. You appear to be parroting, or repeating, the advertising claims for it in all the glorious details. We also do not know if the “tests” conducted in your presence, or in anyone’s presence, can remotely be called scientifically sound, or what conclusions from them we are to draw, or that we should assume the material chosen specifically for these kind of tests were not “cherry-picked.”

          Before I forget (as anything can happen at my advanced age of 127), my typos come from my Smart Phone that is smarter than I. It gets smarter every year AND faster. I lose brain cells every day and get slower.

          Time smearing is inherent in the many facets of analog, never mind phase smearing, crosstalk – which is smearing of another kind, noise of various kind which smears and interacts with the signal, magnetic, electric and acoustic modulation – smearing, and so many distortions we are aware of, I barely know where to begin. Many of these are not an issue with good digital. Moreover, analog is a slow, low – resolution medium…again proving our brains, ears, and eyes, are not…analog.

          And yes, I own a very high end analog system, including all the direct-to-disc LPs – THE standard for the best analog possible – better than 1″ master tapes made at the same sessions.

          Lastly, just for the record, I was invited to and present at the New York RCA studio party near Rockefeller Center where the Chesky brothers introduced Rebecca Pidgeon, in the days before digital reared it’s ugly head, making the future we and the Cheskys are entering, possible.

      • To Andrew Benjamin:
        Yes State of the Art Digital Recording with State of the Art Digital playback can sound astonishing.
        However iZotope or GoodHertz are inexpensive tools to make mediocre digital recordings sound passable. They are geared towards recording, management and mastering of digital. They are not pure digital playback tools.
        From my own experience with Studio Master Tapes or a Direct copy of a Studio Master Tape sounds superior to its digital counterpart – rehashashed and remastered digital of any form CD, 24/96 or DSD.
        What we strive to achieve in the recordings is to capture the essence of the musical event. Most musical events are analog as the sound waves are analog – not digital. So unless your brain is wired for zeros and ones you are back where you started – analog. Analog out – analog in. Peter Veth’s desire to achieve analog sound appears to be on the right track.

        • To Jerry: I’m afraid you are incorrect. iZotope is included in a number of commercial playback engines, GoodHertz in fewer of them. Inexpensive or expensive is no more an issue here than it is with MQA, which is as inexpensive add it comes free in some cases and in some cases included in streaming.

          Neither digital engine was designed to make mediocre digital recordings sound passable, using your words. Other tools are made for that purpose.

          With the former the expense depends on the package of tools the recording engineer purchased from the vendor. In the case of the player designer, these are part of deals between designer and the vendor, and the player plug-ins are specifically for playback…not to make digital recordings sound passable, but to redither, resample, deal with pre and post-ringing and other filtering issues MQA may or may not attempt to deal with.

          The differences between the plug-ins and MQA is that the first is an open, flexible system, the last is carved in stone, locked. If one were to logically assess the two, the second would be aimed at the low end, not the first.

          Your brain does not process information in analog and it does not store information in an analog medium. In fact, the largest thinking is, your brain is more akin to a RAM, or a microchip and your body provides the electrical power to keep it doing its various functions.

          A master tape is the reference unless a better master tape is found. A master tape may be a better reference than a digital master disc. Or vica versa. If both were recordings from the same session, in almost all cases the disc will sound closer to the line feed. The rest of the stories are narratives, propaganda, advertising blurbs and fairy tales.

          Lastly, for the last three decades there have been relatively few analog recordings that did not go through some sort of digital processing or manipulation in mixing, post production, and remastering.

          However if a post-processed analog recording sounded better to you than a post processed digital recording, all the best to you.

          • FYI Jerry, GoodHertz plug in is significantly superior sonically to the iZotope-Ozone type used in some player’s engines. The professional iZotopesuite can cost several thousand dollars, the instruction manuals several hundred. There’s a semipro suite you can examine here, as you can see even this cheap software costs far more than the MQA you will soon have in your iPhones for free. It can’t get any more cheaper than free, can it?

            These are emphatically NOT the same as used in player software which have the functions I described earlier. In other words, flexibility and capability far greater than what we know about MQA, because you decide the filter parameters. And if you knew the filter parameters for MQA for your DAC, you’d probably be able to match MQA – but in either case you can arguably better it.

            As a matter of perspective, before you set in stone opinion about analog or the superiority of tape, listen to various D2Ds to get an idea about what good analog can do.

            I assure you, tape does not even come close, and LPs of the same performances next to D2D sound like a joke. Never mind the reality: What tapes?

    • Peter, many thanks for sharing the insights from your listening to MQA at BVS. You certainly were treated to an excellent system – I have always been a big fan of Vivid Audio and use them as a reference for my designs (particularly since Jim Thiel died).

      As you say it is difficult to give a definitive conclusion when there are a number of variables at play, particularly which ‘master’ is used for which digital file, but it was good to hear that you seem positive overall about MQA and its future.

      John Darko said in his original long-lost post above that MQA addressed all 3 stages of the analog to analog (microphone output to DAC output) steps of sound reproduction:
      1. the ADC – de-blurring (by anti-aliasing filter choice/compensation).
      2. the transmission – by ‘origami’ folding/ unfolding of frequency into surplus bit depth.
      3. the DAC – de-blurring (by anti-aliasing filter choice/compensation).
      It seems to me that all that MQA is trying to do makes sense – and knowing Bob Stuart (one of the smartest guys I have met) very probably does technically what it is claimed to do – though again stress I am not a digital expert.

      My major problem is knowing/understanding how much these steps are kept separate and how much they are merged as part of an ‘overall process’ (as Bob likes to say). In principle they seem capable of being kept separate but in practice (for perhaps legitimate technical reasons as Bel Canto John Srtronczer says or perhaps for licensing/marketing reasons) they may be merged. The latter would make it very difficult for me as I have a DEQX based-active system and it may not be worthwhile for DEQX to include MQA at least in the short term. Then would I at least get step 1 improvements if I bought MQA files? I have thought about buying an Explorer2 but then it would have to be fed into the analog in of the DEQX and involve 2 more stages of conversion (ADC and DAC) inside the DEQX which may undo any de-blurring gains of stage 1.

      Benjamin, yes it would be good if one could compare a feed direct from the microphone to one passing through the MQA system but this is probably unrealistic – and the MQA one would be inevitably worse given any extra steps 1. to 3. can only add distortion (difference to input) – so a more realistic comparison must always be other types of recording/transmission mediums to MQA.

      I think by ‘analog’ people generally mean a more ‘relaxed’ sound. I think it is probably a bad use of the term (but one that has become endemic) because as you say most ‘analog’ systems add much more distortion (output – input) than digital systems – though some would say more ‘pleasing/euphonic’. I personally think analog, particularly turntable, systems do sound less stressed at higher frequencies but to me it is more than offset by general ‘muddle’ (distortion) over the rest of the frequency range. So if MQA solves this ‘digital’ problem of high frequency ‘stress’ then to me it is an important step forward – and one I would like to get – somehow!

      • Andrew Benjamin, apologies for the name mix-up!

        Just a bit more explanation in the above. The term ‘analog’ probably means different things in different contexts (and perhaps to different people). In the context of MQA it probably should mean as you say the ‘analog’ sound (air waves) reaching the microphone – and thence onto the recording mechanism (analog tape or digital file etc). However most people don’t have access to this so ‘analog’ sound generally means what they get from their turntables – obviously a very different thing.

        When I was at Linn in Glasgow we worked closely with Castle Sound Studios outside Edinburgh – partly because they recorded Linn’s artists (Carol Kidd, Blue Nile etc) and partly because we designed a setup their monitoring speakers (one of the Wet Wet Wet albums was also recorded there and mastered on my Nexus loudspeakers). So we had access to the master tapes (4-track pneumatic tapes running at 8 ips). These were used to cut the vinyl pressing discs cut with Lin’s specially modified cutting lathe. And even when the latter were played through Linn’s best ‘analog’ system at the time (Sondek/Ekos/Troika through tri-amped active Keltik speakers) it was never in the same league as the original master-tapes. So as you say it would be also good to know how much an MQA system closes this gap.

        I still have an “analog’ Linn TT system which was recently upgraded (Keel etc) and to which I added a lot of constrained-layer damping to try to reduce some of the resonances – the bain of all mechanical systems, including loudspeakers, that increase time-smearing – and the main thing MQA is trying to reduce! But to me this ‘analog’ system still falls well short of my ‘digital’ DEQX based system – for example when comparing the vinyl version of Carol Kidd’s ‘Nice Work’ with the downloaded 96/24 version. It is probably not surprising when one looks at the distortion measurements of pick-up cartridges often with a THD of around 1%. I think this ‘euphonic’ distortion ‘softens’ the HF and gives the sound that most people refer to as ‘analog’ sound – and find pleasing. However it is not accurate (and to me destroys much of the dynamics plus makes everything sound much the same with 3 tea-spoons of sweetener added) so I hope MQA can reduce ‘digital glare’ by other means – without too many downsides.

        • It’s great that you could give your insights into this conversation, especially where you were able to compare analog master tapes, not copies of, to the digital stream. An early digital v. the best analog from a team producing the best of analog of their time.

          Of importance is the fact that modern digital has made significant strides over early digital!

          Your quote: “But to me this ‘analog’ system still falls well short of my ‘digital’ DEQX based system…”

          The operative words are “well short of.”

          Your experience matches mine, and of most recording engineers honest about the facts, in contrast to audiophile fashion of the moment or the agenda of advertisers.

          Digital sound and digital imaging use more or less similar technologies to achieve the results they have achieved.

          Our brains and sensory systems, being arguably digital themselves, can resolve the improvements wrought by hi def imaging, 720i, 1080p, 2k, 4k and now 8k.

          Why would anyone think otherwise for audio?

  58. It’s interesting how quickly *some* of the cognoscenti seem to have gone from :

    ‘CD ? Over my dead body !’ to :
    ‘Downloads ? Over my dead body !’ to arrive at
    ‘Lossy streaming ? Over my dead body !’.

    I’m still yet to be convinced that ANY voodoo applied after the master is locked away can remedy some of the indignities perpetrated on the recordings that many of us know and love, but the very notion that we can ‘fix’ the ADC used in said recording appeals to me far more than any number of high-res remasters (apologies to Bob Ludwig and others who’ve sweated blood to make that happen).

    I can only smirk at the notion that MQA will be ‘cheaper” than aftermarket plugins / pro playback software etc – I know enough about this community to know that there will be a headlong rush to buy MQA’d recordings of favored albums, and that’s more likely to be downloads than streamed TIDAL versions, simply because of the mindset that saw me buy ‘Darkeness on the Edge of Town’ 3 times in 2014. The sad, strange little man inside me HAD to know if one was superior to the next, and to this day all I will say with any certainty is that the 24/96 Ludwig remaster sounds ‘smoother’ : whether Springsteen fans would see that as an improvement is a much tougher question. Sitting there for hours with a pair of HD800s strapped to my head listening for said ‘improvements’ is an exercise I have no interest in revisiting — YMMV.

    Bob Stuart knows his market, and he knows MQA will be a moneyspinner, regardless of our apparent skepticism. The man is no fool, but I question our collective sanity in constantly running after every silver bullet that is presented to us in a jewel case.

  59. I have the impression that with listening to music via a D/A processor, our brain is an important part of the filtering and re-construction process.
    Audiophiles like myself, take pleasure in listening to music and re-create a sense of presence and ‘being there’ in our living room as if we are in a different place & time using our high-end gear as some kind of a time-window.
    Digitally encoded, encapsulated music still needs to be decoded back into an analog signal before our loudspeakers can transport the analog sound via the air in our living room to our ears.
    Although a CD or other digital medium sounds crystal clear, it seems to cause some fatigue in our brain and a sense of un-naturality. When walking in a forest, I sometimes close my eyes and am fascinated what wealth of 3D sound is around me. My brain is able to locate height, distance, location of a bird or a dog barking somewhere with ease and not any high-end system comes close to the real thing. It proves also how extremely strong and sensitive the computational power of our brain is and that with our hobby and all intrinsic physical problems there are in our living / listening room, like reflections, phase distortion, etc etc. our brain is still capable to filter a lot of errors out and we are able to enjoy the closest thing to the original recording session.
    I was not aware that pre-ringing is an unnatural process and part of the flaws of digital recordings / filtering until MQA arrived. Since then, I have been reading a lot regarding this topic and started to understand why analog recordings do not have this flaw and why Sony developed DSD and why PCM solves this problem by increasing sampling rates. It’s all about making it our brains more easy to recognize a recording as more natural. It also explains that many persons still prefer the analog LP vinyl ‘medium transporter’ instead of digitally transported music.

    MQA is capable to take away an important part of these fatiguing ringing effects, and therefore it is a game-changing technology, which should appeal to all audiophiles. Again, the only way to convince yourself is to LISTEN to it. I hope all of you will have the opportunity to do this soon and I hope that the MQA team or some record company will release a MQA encoded music sampler which contains also examples of older recordings. It’s all very exciting!

    • Peter,
      I have heard that NAD are in the process to have MQA properly decoded by the Blu-OS. Do you know if it is working now with your C390DD?

      • Hello Arnolfini,

        Yes, the C390DD will decode and play MQA files with integrated BlueOS module. First you will need to update the 390DD firmware with the most recent version (I believe V2.89) which you can download at the website onto an empty fat32 formatted USB stick. Instructions how to install and do a factory reset is clearly described. The BluoOS module is frequently being updated automatically, so that will be fine I expect. The same for the Bluesound app for iphone, android or tablets.
        The beauty of the BlueOS module is that it is integrated onto the 390DD architecture and that it also has a USB port in which I use a Audioquest dragonfly and a 64 Gb USB stick with FLAC, WAV and some MQA music files. The DAC accepts max 24/192 resolution files and the MQA files are unfolded by the MQA algorithm to 24/88 , 24/96 , 24/176 or 24/192 but not to 24/384.
        The Bluesound app shows which type of MQA file is being played, resolution and the MQA logo.
        Altogether the aftersales service of NAD and Bluesound is excellent. This amplifier always has been an overachiever and with the latest firmware upgrade it sounds also much more refined also with normal FLAC and WAV music files, especially in the higher frequency range. But with MQA master authenticated files, the soundquality increases substantially and instruments, voices and soundstage becomes much more natural, analog and vivid.
        So worth to upgrade for sure!
        Regards, Peter

  60. Well, well, well… check this out!

    This sampler is a free way to try different resolution (bit rate) master tracks that have been encoded as MQA.

    *** You don’t need any special hardware or player to hear these ***

    Ranging from standard CD quality (16/44.1) to the higher 24-bit new standard (24/96) to the highest DXD (24/352.8) based on the original masters for different David Elias hi-res and CD albums.

    Take a listen to David’s approach to Independent Acoustic.

    David Elias, a hi-res recording pioneer and self-produced musician in the audiophile community has been described as a songwriter’s songwriter. His lyrical images are constructed as poetry, each telling their story against strikingly stark and powerfully melodic acoustic backgrounds accompanied by luminary studio players and performers.

    Recognized for his purely ambient approaches to live studio recording using minimal micing and tracking without edits, Elias has delivered well received hi-res and other studio and live productions to music lovers world wide since 1995.

    MQA helps reveal the subtle timing nuances and dynamics of the acoustic presence created throughout his recordings.

    As one MQA listener put it: “The sound is incredible. The loudspeakers vanish. It sounds like you and the band are right here.”

    • I’d rather become tired of hearing Classic Rock tracks or something I’ll might actually be listening to at home than perfectly recorded & prepared music demos that I’ll never play again. Most demos are designed to sell something. But it’s not realistic to believe everything you play back is gonna sound like that. Thus, I don’t see the point? Is it for musical enjoyment or to sell MQA to everyone who will be disappointed when they finally hear their favorite tracks at home?

      • The music itself is much more important! If I have to choose between loosing all my historic albums, getting MQA ‘bliss’ in return for all new music or save my memories in 128k MP3 I will choose the last.
        Especially the comments regarding the sound quality of MQA with their own recordings is of interest for this post, confirming an (inconvenient still..?) Truth.
        Most of us are much more looking forward to the MQA encoding and decoding effect of Authenticated Digital Mastertapes of indeed those Rock, Pop, Jazz and Classical masterpieces out there.

    • This rather begs the question: do we listen to an album because we enjoy the music itself or do we listen because of the file format used to encode it?

      • Like many dichotomies (mind vs body etc etc) to me this one is not particularly useful. I listen to both the music and the way it is presented simultaneously/holistically and if any one of the facets (music, playing, reproduction etc) jar then the experience becomes much less enjoyable – unless one of the other facets is so overwhelmingly good it outweighs the negative eg a fantastic piece of music badly recorded or a poor piece of music extremely well recorded. And to me this is true of much aesthetic enjoyment – photography, painting, film, books etc.
        So if MQA can improve the presentation then I am all for it.

        • Sure – MQA added to the mix with music you like is fine. But listening to music exclusively for its encoding method or mastering/recording quality, irrespective of whether ones likes said music or not, is not something I can relate to unless I am charged with evaluating the format.

          • Of course – one has to separate out listening for enjoyment and listening for work!

          • Sure – but for the audiophile who listens only for enjoyment, playing music primarily because it sounds good is one way to have fun but it’s not mine.

          • There are some “audiophile’ recordings I listen to for work whose music I don’t particularly like but even then I can appreciate the sound quality of the recording for its own sake. Much the same as I can appreciate/enjoy the detailed brush-work of a painting whose subject matter doesn’t turn me on. However there are also many recordings I listen to for pleasure whose music does turn me on but the recording quality is fairly ordinary.

            I don’t see it as a dichotomy problem – though I guess it might be if one gets stuck at one end or the other! And ideally one would like both which is why I have supported successive hires formats – DVD-Audio, SACD, hires downloads and now hopefully MQA. Even if does mean some duplication of recordings (some of which have not been worthwhile) – though probably an order of magnitude less spending than on equipment upgrades (some of which also have not been worthwhile).

          • This is part of my loudspeaker work/research where I need to keep pushing the boundaries of the reproduction chain that is only as strong as its weakest link – now not necessarily loudspeakers that historically have been. Unfortunately research is not always a monotonic process. I guess we all have different needs!

    • If MQA “folded” the data to be later unfolded by an MQA-equipped DAC, I submit that a conventional download of MQA samples is emphatically NOT listening to MQA, or a valid scientific comparison of what MQA can or cannot do.

      In other words, and I use this in my political writings, it is setting up an illogical premise to be taen logically to an illogical conclusion.

  61. The Absolute Sound magazine has just published in its Sept 2016 issue a review of by Steven Stone of the Mytek Brooklyn DAC with its MQA capabilities. Steven is their resident digital expert whose views I have come to generally trust but is also a recording engineer so was able to compare his own ‘master’ recordings with those put through the MQA process.

    He found that “much to my surprise the MQA sourced files source from my DSD128 masters sounded better than the originals! In what specific ways do they sound better? They were all spatially more accurate with more decipherable low level information.”

    It seems to me (as a skeptical scientist!) that the evidence, both theoretical and experimental, is becoming increasingly in favour of MQA, as John Darko found at the beginning of this thread! Whether it becomes a commercial reality I guess is another thing. The ‘audiophile’ community has in the past not supported two undoubtedly improved mediums, SACD and DVD-audio, preferring instead to look backwards to the past. But hopefully this time it might come to its senses – or be bypassed by a younger generation without the historical hang-ups and more willing to accept change, particularly digital when presented to them in a user-friendly package.

    • SACD was supported by audiophile community but not general public. It also failed because it was a close format that was impossible to play as a native DSD through outboard DACs.
      It also failed because it’s primary market was an audiophile market with releases of classical, jazz and classic rock. Audiophile market is a tiny, tiny spec in today’s market. If MQA remains closed format, if it is geared towards audiophiles and only releases “audiophile” music it is dead before it is born. Even when they do everything to make MQA widely accepted THE GENERAL Public will not be able to tell the difference through white earbuds and Bluetooth speakers. The only future for MQA is open format and streaming. (Hello Spotify, Tidal, Apple) Remember HDCD?

    • Listen carefully: if the MQA file sounds “different” than the original, it is not one and the same. It is not a copy of the master. It is rather, an alteration done on the fly in the digital domain.

      Analogous for analog such as the Fletcher-Munson curve, RIAA emphasis and de-emphasis, EQ and other filtration. In other words, manipulation of ringing, dither, and of other arguable artifacts.

      If it sounds “better,” all to the good. But it is not, the same as the original… It does not unfold or unwrap the original. Now we have to see if some originals will sound better, or if another technology appears to make all originals sound better.

      Meanwhile, there are really important things in the world. For example the plate of sushi starting back at me.

      • Deblurring and enhancing a picture, a movie or a sound recording digitally, brings us closer to the original situation. Using such tools properly is bringing us closer to the truth.
        Yesterday evening I experienced a stunning example and watched the digitally enhanced footage of the killing of JFK. I am still a bit shocked to be honest, since it is inevitable that the chauffeur is pulling a gun and shoots over his right shoulder with his left hand.. Still digesting this stuff, since I hate conspiracies..
        Think I will play some music now to start the weekend..cheers guys!

      • But revealing ‘the truth’ is indeed a biased process… A second video regarding JFK killing reveals a different story. The gun is not there, it is the reflection of the sun on the guy right next to the chauffeur..
        Maybe truthdigging is a wrong hobby nowadays..even 9/11 stories out there which are bull..Shit I hate being manipulated, but we have to accept that listening to music will probably never be listening to the truth.
        In relation to digital audio, it’s interesting to noticece that for example Dcs DAC one can select the type of filter used to one’s taste and preference.

  62. Robert Harley makes a similar point (and much better than me!) in the current issue of The Absolute Sound magazine in reply to a letter similarly criticising MQA:
    “MQA doesn’t alter the aesthetic of the recording: it simply takes the listener one step closer to the original sound by removing a specific artifact (the temporal blur of steep filters in the original analog-to digital converter). The master should be thought of as the sound captured by the microphone, or the stereo mixdown, not the sound after it has been corrupted by an A/D converter. What is wrong with removing a form of distortion? To follow your analogy it’s as though we could previously look at a Van Gough only through a pane of less-than-transparent glass, but can now remove the glass and see the original”.

    • I cannot agree with you more Rod. My analogy was meant to explain that when listening to music via a digital audio chain, that we are always listening to a computed reconstruction which contains many artefacts and errors for which have been made correcrions for. It started with the CD player, where the laser can miss 1 and 0 and the optical layer intrinsically has Block Error Rates, which are also corrected for. Nowadays we are ripping those CD’s at high speed, expecting that al data have been copied 100% bitperfect. Finally we stream these data via USB cables or ethernet, which causes the usual RFI distortions via RFI and asynchronous clock protocols are required to manage the differences between source and DAC clocks. The datastream gets contaminated by jitter and pre- and post- ringing D/A and A/D effects, not only during playback, but also during recording..
      Finally, the sound of the D/A proces is influenced by the type of anti-aliasing filter, which nowadays is in many cases a DSP like FPGA is. Nothing wrong with that, since digitalisation offers many advantages, like higherbdynamic range and lower noise floor than analogue recordings. What I tried to explain with the analogy, was a reply to Andrew Benjamin who stated that if a MQA file sounds different, even better, that it is therefore not the ‘original’ anymore.. I actually do not agree at all with this argumentation, since we are not listening to ones and zeros, but to the analogue reconstruction of the datastream. Many digital processing and analogue filtering and cables etc. etc. are of influence to the endresult. So the argument that the MQA algorithm is altering the original, is no argument, since many factors are contributing to the D/A process.
      So Rod, I am very glad with your Van Gogh analogy, which exactly describes the positive contribution of the MQA algorithm..It brings us a step closer to the truth, although we will continue to hear differences between MQA certified DAC’s as well

  63. And John Atkinson, editor of Stereophile magazine who is also a recording engineer of long standing, has just written in the September 2016 issue when listening to MQA encoded files including some of his own:

    “The MQA files were varied in content ….Whatever the provenance, a consistent factor in my auditioning of the decoded MQA files was a sense of ease to the sound. High frequencies were in no way dulled, but the treble was consistently sweet.

    (With) a live recording (of mine)………the MQA version presented the sound of the hall with less ambiguity. It was as if my brain were having to do less work making sense of the stereo information to construct an internal model of the recorded acoustic.

    Will that be enough to ensure the format’s success? Only if the record industry embraces it……”.